Michael Wehunt: The Teeth of America

Just finished reading Michael Wehunt‘s latest horror tale “The Teeth of America”, and it’s about the dark corruption that pervades every aspect of our society at the moment. Racism and Hate. There is a deep sickness in our society, one that has been festering for decades if not centuries. A corruption that has spread from east to west and back again… a malevolent poison that has been brewing in the depths of men’s hearts and minds. The Civil War became the greatest marking point in its history, one that opened a wound that has yet to heal our nation. Under the soil of our land is a haunting sense that something is not right with us, that things are not what they seem. For decades this cosmic cesspool of hate and bigotry has sunken its teeth into the American psyche leading young and old alike to enter some ungodly cult-like pact of delirium.

Michael’s tale turns this corruption seeping in from the outside in of our deadly heritage of hate and bigotry, our dark hinterlands of fascism and white supremacist ideologies and KKK nightmares, where Aryan and Skinhead brotherhoods roam in feral packs across our nation like mad dogs of some unholy faith… It’s a tale of bitter men whose sullied hearts of stone and cold intelligence have bitten the fruit of some ancient darkness and given birth to a strange god… and now that malevolent and tortured god is calling them home to a festival of massacres. 

Read it and weep for our world… The Teeth of America!

While your at it pick up one of Michael’s latest collections: on Amazon!


Rereading Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

This is sixth reading of Ligotti’s Conspiracy book, and every time something new pops out or a new perspective on various angles of vision suddenly rise up while others fall back into the background. With this reading I honed in on his stance of pessimism and anti-natalism. His vision pushes Schopenhauer’s vision of extreme menace and hooks it with the early rather than late Lovecraftian horror reality. To say the least it is an explosive and somber view of life and cosmos, a view that leaves us in no doubt as to what underpins his corpus of tales. His vision is definitely not for everyone, it’s probably the darkest vision of existence I’ve seen in my sixty-eight years. But that’s only to say that his is a vision very few will ever accept, for the central core of his vision is that 99% of humanity is in denial of this horror reality within which we are all situated.

As he surmise from Zapffe and others it’s not actually our fault either, we have since the origins of consciousness been the victims of our own success. Consciousness gave rise to certain repressive and defensive measures against our natural existence, a “denial of reality” syndrome if you will. As T.S. Eliot once suggested: “Human cannot bare too much reality!” That’s an understatement. As Ajit Varki and Danny Brower in their book Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind suggests somewhere along the way humans were became aware of their own mortality, and the anxiety, terror, and dread of physical death shaped their psyches to the point of madness. To counter this “humans needed to evolve a mechanism for overcoming this hurdle: the denial of reality.” As a consequence of this evolutionary quirk we now deny any aspects of reality that are not to our liking-we smoke cigarettes, eat unhealthy foods, and avoid exercise, knowing these habits are a prescription for an early death. And so what has worked to establish our species could be our undoing if we continue to deny the consequences of unrealistic approaches to everything from personal health to financial risk-taking to climate change.

Optimism, confidence, and courage in the face of these harsh truths are the markers of our denial, defensive and self-deluded deliriums of our escape and evasive tactics to leave our natural world of mortality and degradation behind. We are the mad creatures who have invented artificial worlds to hide ourselves from the truth of our cosmic predicament. As Ligotti says:

“As a species with consciousness, we do have our inconveniences. Yet these are of negligible importance compared to what it would be like to feel in our depths that we are nothing but human puppets—things of mistaken identity who must live with the terrible knowledge that they are not making a go of it on their own and are not what they once thought they were. At this time, barely anyone can conceive of this happening—of hitting bottom and finding to our despair that we can never again resurrect our repressions and denials. Not until that day of lost illusions comes, if it ever comes, will we all be competent to conceive of such a thing. But a great many more generations will pass through life before that happens, if it happens.” (TCHR, pp. 79-89)

What I believe?

I’m more of an Anti-Gnostic Gnostic – or a pessimist who no longer ontologizes the universe as pure evil per se as in the Gnostics, but rather as a part of our epistemic inheritance: a mood and temperament, not a realism. The only horror being consciousness itself. I’m not a religious creature and like Ligotti I believe there are no objective values (moral anti-realism), only the indifference and impersonalism of a dynamic universe without gods or God. We are part of the insanity of processes that have no rhyme or reason as attested by the various evolutionary histories in our planetary history, all bound to various cataclysmic events which have cycled through time producing a myriad of different species. All of which (or some estimate 90%) have for the most part seen their day and gone extinct just as we will in some future time to be determined. Even now the notion of our replacement or substitution is in the offing with all the various philosophies and sciences of the post-human divide. Who knows what will come? Certainly not I. I’m no prophet or even doomsayer. Just someone who has by temperament and situation been drawn to the pessimistic worldview rather than optimists.

The Great Filter, in the context of the Fermi paradox, is whatever prevents non-living matter from undergoing abiogenesis, in time, to expanding lasting life as measured by the Kardashev scale. The concept originates in Robin Hanson’s argument that the failure to find any extraterrestrial civilizations in the observable universe implies the possibility something is wrong with one or more of the arguments from various scientific disciplines that the appearance of advanced intelligent life is probable; this observation is conceptualized in terms of a “Great Filter” which acts to reduce the great number of sites where intelligent life might arise to the tiny number of intelligent species with advanced civilizations actually observed (currently just one: human). This probability threshold, which could lie behind us (in our past) or in front of us (in our future), might work as a barrier to the evolution of intelligent life, or as a high probability of self-destruction. The main counter-intuitive conclusion of this observation is that the easier it was for life to evolve to our stage, the bleaker our future chances probably are. (wiki)

As Ligotti suggests:

Consciousness is an existential liability, as every pessimist agrees—a blunder of blind nature, according to Zapffe, that has taken humankind down a black hole of logic. To make it through this life, we must make believe that we are not what we are—contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox. To correct this blunder, we should desist from procreating.” The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (p. 49).

Do I believe that will ever happen? No. Humanity will continue as it always has in denial and self-deception, full of optimistic hope and dreams of either some heavenly paradise or earthly one just beyond our present degradation. All religions are based on the notion of transcendence for the most part, the notion of a beyonding… hoping for some form of soteriological or redemptive clause in the sad state of affairs that will allow them to overcome human organic depletion and death. Sadly they are wrong. But, hey, I’m in the minority here. So I’ll just let it sit or stand at that.

Summing up the pessimistic imagination Thomas Ligotti in his The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror states:

Here, then, is the signature motif of the pessimistic imagination that Schopenhauer made discernible: Behind the scenes of life there is something pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world. For Zapffe, the evolutionary mutation of consciousness tugged us into tragedy. For Michelstaedter, individuals can exist only as unrealities that are made as they are made and that cannot make themselves otherwise because their hands are forced by the “god” of philopsychia (self-love) to accept positive illusions about themselves or not accept themselves at all. For Mainländer, a Will-to-die, not Schopenhauer’s Will-to-live, plays the occult master pulling our strings, making us dance in fitful motions like marionettes caught in a turbulent wake left by the passing of a self-murdered god. For Bahnsen, a purposeless force breathes a black life into everything and feasts upon it part by part, regurgitating itself into itself, ever-renewing the throbbing forms of its repast. For all others who suspect that something is amiss in the lifeblood of being, something they cannot verbalize, there are the malformed shades of suffering and death that chase them into the false light of contenting lies.

That says everything that needs to be said on the subject.


A Great Horror Philosophy: “The Will-to-Die” in Philip Mainländer’s Philosophy of Redemption

“But at the bottom, the immanent philosopher sees in the entire universe only the deepest longing for absolute annihilation, and it is as if he clearly hears the call that permeates all spheres of heaven: Redemption! Redemption! Death to our life! and the comforting answer: you will all find annihilation and be redeemed!”

― Philipp Mainländer, Die Philosophie Der Erlosung

Thomas Ligotti mentions Philipp Mainländer one of Schopenhauer’s followers whose Philosophy of Redemption exposed an inverted Gnosticism, one in which the supposed alien god of the Universe decides long ago to vacate his Outside Exile and die through his creation in a great festival of annihilation. The myth that Mainländer envisions is one in which this God rather than seeking to save humanity decides on another plan of redemption, one in which his secret wish to end himself becomes the path to redemption. This God sacrifices himself and his sparks are spread throughout the known universe, secret energeia or egregores that inhabit every living thing in the universe with this God’s corruption and horror reality of the “Will-to-Die”. So that unlike Schopenhauer’s Will-to-Live, this universal method of self-suicide or Deicide is instilled in every aspect of natural existence.

As Ligotti puts it: “Mainländer was confident that the Will-to-die he believed would well up in humanity had been spiritually grafted into us by a God who, in the beginning, masterminded His own quietus. It seems that existence was a horror to God. Unfortunately, God was impervious to the depredations of time. This being so, His only means to get free of Himself was by a divine form of suicide.” (TCHR, p. 35)

Mainländer was so sure his ideas would be adhered too that on the day of publication of his magisterial edifice he committed suicide. Ligotti concludes:

“In Mainländer’s philosophy, “God knew that He could change from a state of super-reality into non-being only through the development of a real world of multiformity.” Employing this strategy, He excluded Himself from being. “God is dead,” wrote Mainländer, “and His death was the life of the world.” Once the great individuation had been initiated, the momentum of its creator’s self-annihilation would continue until everything became exhausted by its own existence, which for human beings meant that the faster they learned that happiness was not as good as they thought it would be, the happier they would be to die out.” (ibid. p. 35)

  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror. Penguin Books; Reprint edition (October 2, 2018)

Thomas Ligotti: Pessimism and Horror

Madness, chaos, bone-deep mayhem, devastation of innumerable souls—while we scream and perish, History licks a finger and turns the page. Fiction, unable to compete with the world for vividness of pain and lasting effects of fear, compensates in its own way. How? By inventing more bizarre means to outrageous ends. Among these means, of course, is the supernatural. In transforming natural ordeals into supernatural ones, we find the strength to affirm and deny their horror simultaneously, to savor and suffer them at the same time.

So it is that supernatural horror is the product of a profoundly divided species of being. It is not the pastime of even our closest relations in the wholly natural world: we gained it, as part of our gloomy inheritance, when we became what we are. Once awareness of the human predicament was achieved, we immediately took off in two directions, splitting ourselves down the middle. One half became dedicated to apologetics, even celebration, of our new toy of consciousness. The other half condemned and occasionally launched direct assaults on this “gift.”

Supernatural horror was one of the ways we found that would allow us to live with our double selves. By its employ, we discovered how to take all the things that victimize us in our natural lives and turn them into the very stuff of demonic delight in our fantasy lives. In story and song, we could entertain ourselves with the worst we could think of, overwriting real pains with ones that were unreal and harmless to our species. We can also do this trick without trespassing onto the property of supernatural horror, but then we risk running into miseries that are too close to home. While horror may make us squirm or quake, it will not make us cry at the pity of things. The vampire may symbolize our horror of both life and death, but none of us has ever been uprooted by a symbol. The zombie may conceptualize our sickness of the flesh and its appetites, but no one has ever been sickened to death by a concept. By means of supernatural horror we may pull our own strings of fate without collapsing—natural-born puppets whose lips are painted with our own blood.

—Thomas Ligotti, Songs of a Dead Dreamer

The Art of Extinction

“On rare occasions he even spoke to me,’ the doctor said, ‘about the uncreation of his whole life.'”

“Idiots, they mourn the extinction of their beauties and their loves— their pitiful vices— as if these were anything but futile illusions. And such illusions only breed other, more horrible, fantasies: pain, isolation, and ultimate annihilation.”

– Thomas Ligotti

If as Braidotti in an essay on the Deleuzian Century puts it that philosophy should celebrate “the forces of creation (making things happen), practice an activism through art, through an art of living”, then what would a philosophy that celebrated the forces of decreation or uncreation, that practices a deactivation of all affirmation and positivity by way of an absolute negation, through an art of extinction look like? As a character in one of Thomas Ligotti’s tales puts it:

“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.”

What if rather than some less than adequate mass suicide or futurial event of mass extinction (natural or otherwise), we instead activate the decreation of history itself, disturb the black waters of human origins and unmake the very substance of our own beginnings? Isn’t this the core of all inhuman, posthuman, and transhuman philosophies: to become otherings? Why not instead just unmake this transient mobility, distill from the traces of its stain a final thread that like all horror realities unbinds it to the Outside – the Unknown. A great unravelling of the human into something non-human, an uncreation into elsewhere?

May that which is low in us go downwards so that what is high can go upwards. For we are wrong side upward. We are born thus. To re-establish order is to undo the creature in us.

– Simon Weil, Gravity and Grace

Unmaking, decreating, is the only task man may take upon himself, if he aspires, as everything suggests, to distinguish himself from the Creator.

– E. M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born

The World Does Not Exist

“And why do we smell only stale incense and rarely have the odours of paradise about us? Because we have fallen into language. Words. What if words were not after all a great blessing but an obstacle? An interference with direct experience? If we had not developed language, would we have developed instead a finely tuned apprehension of each other’s moods and feelings, quite close to telepathy? Might we also see, hear, smell and feel everything around us more intently, more intensely? Could we have become closer to the immediate, the immanent world, ‘things as they are’? Instead of living in the moment, it’s as if we have to convert that moment into a scrambled code of itself, its signifier in words. Like looking at the shapes ‘s e a’ instead of at the sea itself.”1

As I was reading this it reminded me of all the lessons of Kant. The notion that we never truly see things as they are, that we are always already seeing the past even as we open our eyes seeing the smile of our lover. Everything we assume is right there in front of us, everything we assume is directly accessible to our senses is always already pre-processed by our brain and given back to us as if this is the real world. It’s not. We have never had direct access to the world. The world in fact does not truly exist except as a packaged filter handed to our consciousness by those deep processes of the brain that we are absolutely blind to. This is old hat to philosophers, but for us who suddenly become aware of the simplicity of this it’s both strange and eerie. That our whole conscious lives are lived in the past, even if only by milliseconds, is both astounding and frightening. Isn’t this the stage magician’s power over us, this ability to manipulate those filters of the brain, to trick us into believing we see what we do not see? Aren’t we always behind the eight ball, both victims and dupes of our brain’s evolutionary muck; all of us stuck in some niche of ancient survivalist praxis that our brain through millennia of habit like some old LP record has followed the grooves so many times that the moment the groove is cut, or a gap is formed it gets stuck in a loop unable to move forward or backwards. Maybe our lives are just broken vinyl records, repeating the time vectors of some ancient evolutionary song we’ve all forgotten…

  1. Justin Isis. Marked to Die: A Tribute to Mark Samuels Snuggly Books.

Maurice Levy on Lovecraft’s Fantastic

To our mind, the fantastic is born from the divorce produced between the perfect lucidity of the characters and the dream images that they encounter. Lacking any more precise criteria, one could almost measure the fantastic by the degree of consciousness of the heroes on one side, and on the other the intensity of the dream images that surround them. (p. 13)

—Maurice Levy, Lovecraft: A Study of the Fantastic

What Could Be Said Wasn’t Worth Saying

Even now as he sat at this desk, doing this work, pondering the strange and unfathomable events that had brought him here to begin with he was tempted to believe it was like everything else an illusion. More than that – a delusion of old age, a demented dream of an ailing body. But he knew it wasn’t, knew this is where he was meant to be, doing what he had to do. It had always been this way, and it would always be this way.

Even when he felt the first palpitations, the slow draw in his chest, moving toward the big window where in the distance he saw his wife Martha kneeling down, her delicate hands kneading the newly turned earth where she was planting flowers for the Spring. Even then he didn’t want to believe what was happening was happening. But it was. And he knew it, and knew nothing he could do or say would change the fact that this was it. He wanted to say something to his wife, but he knew that what could be said wasn’t worth saying. He’d said everything and nothing. In the moments before he fell he tried to remember what it was he’d wanted out of life, knowing as he knew that it didn’t matter anyway. Nothing did then, nothing would now. He’d be gone, and memory and desire would fall back into the great emptiness of things.

But they didn’t, nothing is ever lost in this emptiness. Everything goes on and on till it doesn’t then it changes.

Even now as he sat at the desk waiting for the first client of the day he wondered if they too felt such strange disquieting thoughts. Most of them like he was when he came here the first time were dazed and in shock not believing what was happening to them, each like he had been living in denial of what was very much the truth of their situation. To be here in this place, to know what he knew now was almost too much. As he’d sunk down into the thick carpet on that day he’d thought it would just end, that the enveloping darkness would obliterate all thought and there would be nothing left, nothing remaining. He was wrong.

And yet everything here was just as confusing, or more so, than it had been there. But where is here, and where is there? He was still confused. Everything he’d been taught “there” was meaningless “here”. All the preachers, all the philosophers, all the cynics; they’d all gotten it wrong. Nothing was as it seemed.

That was his job, to help those who were confused to realize it wouldn’t get any better. That no one here knew any more than those back there. Things were just what they were; no meaning, no reason, just a sort of inarticulate confusion. All those that came here were like he had been at one time, seekers of the final solution to why… they’d discover soon enough that it was the wrong question. We’d all been asking the wrong questions for far too long.

Sometimes he really wished there had been someone here to answer the deepest questions, the deepest yearnings of his inarticulate heart. But after a while, when no one came forward, when he realized there was no one here, there had never been anyone here with the answers; he wanted to die, but couldn’t because this was both and wasn’t… death. Death had been a lie, too; just one more deception among so many. What it was no one could answer, everyone he’d met here was just as confused as he was living as all do who live here did without meaning or purpose. Everything was pointless, and yet everything went on, pointless or not. Nothing would end, not even our belief in the end.

The first client of the day, confused as he was, stepped through the door. His eyes full of that inarticulate madness of those who believed things would be different than this – whatever this is. Each, like he, had believed the end was just a complete cessation into nothingness. As if death were a blissful sea of forgetfulness and nullity from which nothing but nothing would emerge ever again.

It wasn’t. Everything returns in the end, but changed. Changed forever. And nothingness was not what people assumed. It was something else, something other.

He stood up and greeted the new client:

“Welcome to the Void!”

The client blinked his eyes, thought about saying something but realized that what could be said wasn’t worth saying.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2020 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Michael Griffin: Armageddon House

“A complete series of cultural memories came to mind: the Egyptian masrabas, the Etruscan tombs, the Aztec structures . . . as if this piece of artillery fortification could be identified as a funeral ceremony…”

—Paul Virilio, Bunker Archaeology

“Nature has a master agenda we can only dimly know.”

—Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

CaptureIn The Folly of Fools Robert Trivers reminds us that for our species “deceit and self-deception are two sides of the same coin”. Lying and the art of lying are as old as human kind, and our ability to deceive others as well as ourselves is a part of some deep rooted aspect of our survival mechanisms that in our late stage and civilizational decay have become neither healthy nor part of that age old propagation of survival tools that can keep us safe from the perversities and horrors of our own dark minds.

The bunker marks off a military space – that of the last war game, a game that all nations elaborated and perfected together in the course of the last century.

—Paul Virilio, Bunker Archaeology

Armageddon House. Already the name beckons us toward doomsday, toward some strange apocalyptic world of deadly consequence. Four adults, two men, two women: buried alive in what all assume is a Test. A test for what? As one of the members of this motley crew, Polly, in Michael Griffin’s new horror novel tells us

 “We’re like a simulation of the big test they’ll do later, somewhere farther away. Isn’t that right? Like, a test for a test. I mean, humanity is just a trial run anyway. Preliminary, that’s the word. Preliminary test. Each test is practice for another test, and that’s practice for the next one. Only, how many? Like, which one is this?”1

af190d929775ce05b478fecccf0333beOne is reminded of those elite bunkers for the rich, doomsday escape holes in the middle of nowhere, underground caves like those reviewed on Forbes: Billionaire Bunkers. Except in the novel the personnell seem more like unwilling participants in a private hell for beleagured denizens of some forgotten nightmare. In this grotesquirie each of the four must willingly or not submit to clean up, a biological disposal project of clearing this enclosed world of its human detritus. One of the members:

“…uses tweezers to gather organic detritus from each work stand into the larger stainless-steel tray atop the roll cart. Tiny snips of detached skin, unwanted eyelids, lobes and appendages, discarded trimmed nails, hairs and eyelashes pulled out by roots, all the flesh scattered amidst blood smears and spatters. Every day, the shedding of these parts leaves behind more waste than all the days before. This avalanche of decay, a kind of incremental death, is necessary for the renewal it brings.”

The morbidity of this sequence adds to an already strange and paradoxical stage set. As if we were watching some old Outer Limits or Twilight Zone parable of our late modernity, of the collapse of civilization into a purified world of decadent enclosure where the minutiae of physical being becomes the last parade of sensual delight under duress. Using an incinerator to sterilize the environment one member lifts the days remains into a wall-mounted oven: ” Inside is yesterday’s tray, now cool, bearing only a trace of sterile ash, easily rinsed away. He removes the clean pan and replaces it with today’s, which bears the last, unwanted remnants of who they were until this morning, and never will be again.” It’s as if each day the groups identity is erased and renewed through this act of ritualized incineration. As he closes the air-tight mechanism and turns on the fire the day’s participant Mark ” is certain he smells life burning away.” One wonders what is being released, what is being renewed. Are the participants slowly shedding not only their skins but their humanity as well.

Each day the four are set with certain routines that have up to now kept them adjusted to the insanity of their situation. But on the occasion of our entry into the novel the routine is disrupted by one of the member’s Polly who has for a while been in search of certain meds she believes lie hidden in one of the out of bounds chambers in this labyrinthine bunker world. As if one had entered one of those Ballardian speculative scenarios in which personalities begin to clash in some psycho ward style dysfunctionalism we begin to see the characters perversities rising to the surface. A hidden tension of subdued violence pervades the various innuendos of conversation until the most physical of the group Greyson as if on que suddenly burst the civil decorum of their secure world and manhandles Mark to the ground over some ape like territorial infraction between himself and his partner Polly. The tone of the work begins to go south from there…

Polly vanishes into the darkness of the immense bunker world. The others follow. They discover a great crack in the walls, a tree root that must reach down from some enormous tree far above the complex, a door in the furthest reaches of some forgotten region with a plaque which states in simple letters “Utgard”. It’s as if we’ve suddenly entered some mythical time and world where the ancient Norse World-Tree and the doorway to the giants – the out world of Jotunheim is situated. Closed off, locked, bound in darkness and unreachable. Even as the shock of this takes hold, they all feel a change in the atmosphere, something has changed, a new sense of things to come; and, Jenna – the most sensible one up till now, seems to awaken from some dream throwing her head back and spouting like an ancient Völuspá:  “The wolf won’t cry forever,” Jenna says, voice high and keening. “Someday he’ll climb out, he’ll ride, he’ll rear up and devour god. Then who’ll be crying?”

Ultimately this is a novel of memory, of lost time, of fragments of lives lost amid disasters and ruins, of picking up the pieces here and there in bits of conversation, remembering what one was and is: the quick and the dead. Most of all the novel is seen through Mark’s eyes and mind, and he seems to have lost something long ago, a part of his mind, life, memories in an alternate past or future – one that each of the others understands and keeps repeating in strange and disquieting ways like the trickle of water against darkness and hopelessness. A knowing, a world refreshing and dying to itself each day, a gun in hand, a darkness turning to light in a glow of blue nihil… a shock.

Visit Michael on his site: GriffinWords
Buy Michael’s book on Undertow Publications or Amazon.com

  1. Griffin, Michael. Armageddon House. Undertow Publications (May 12, 2020)


S.P. Miskowski: The Worst Is Yet To Come

Death was the motif; it had perhaps been the motif all along. Death and the way of handling it—that was the motif of the story…

—V. S. Naipaul, The enigma of arrival

CaptureEnigma, from the Latin “riddle”, a tale of woven threads, a strange whirl of slow moving images that cocoon like trap us in a labyrinth of deceit and self-deception. On finishing S.P. Miskowski’s novel The Worst Is Yet To Come I feel like one of those creatures stung, caught in-between two worlds – one world familiar and canny, a place I know because I’ve instilled it with a lifetime of meaning and emotions; the other, a world of uncanny strangeness, a realm in which my mind is trapped as in a spider’s web, a victim of some nightmare master of riddles.

I still do not know what happened, what transpired. I’m baffled. And, yet, I’m haunted by this tale, left in a state of enigmatic quandary without any sense of resolution. Some tales are like that, untidy, leaving you to pursue your own solution to the enigma, the author like some stage magician leading you up to the dénouement then enclosing you in a void behind a curtain of darkness from which you will slowly drift off into sleep unknowing of the one thought, the one word that might release you from your bondage, free you to penetrate the secrets of the riddle.

We know this much: this is a tale with no absolute ending, a tale that weaves its silent mysteries like so many strands of a cottonwood around our lives. Two families, two young girls, a riddle of horror woven of fatality and accident. But are there ever really any accidents? Are we not all puppets being guided by dark and hidden strings of some infernal riddle master whose sole joy is in seeing us twisted in a mesh of pain and misery. Or, is it simpler than that? Maybe the truth is there is no plot, no narrative behind the enigma of our lives, just a vicious circle of unresolved riddles without answers.

Miskowski’s tale places each of the characters in a web of accident and mayhem. A father whose drug habit leads to the disappearance of a daughter. A newlywed’s momentary decision of madness will lead to a revenge play in which Death is the only one who holds all the keys. And the lives of two young girls whose identities like all enigmas is never completely revealed. This is the kind of tale in which you as the Reader, the riddle-master’s assistant will be led down the path of broken dreams where any hope of solution becomes an enigma itself.

Skillute, WA – the city of nightmares and dreams, a place that seems to act like a magnet drawing the world’s children of darkness into its web of deceit. Like Lovecraft or Faulkner, S.P. Miskowski has discovered in the notion of genius loci – the elemental drift of imaginative need a “spirit of place” as old as time itself. It’s a site that is neither in or out of time’s dark vale, a place where strangeness makes its home and habitation. A place where the dead and the living situate themselves on the edge of the never never. It’s here in this strange land of the American Nightmare of agony where all our social ills are on display, refined by a skewed vision, a warped parallax of dread and terror. A place that on the surface is just another normal redneck town situated in Bigotsville U.S.A.; and yet under the tinsel city façade is another world, a hidden world of horror that thrives on murder and mayhem. It’s this darker world that peaks out from time to time in Miskowski’s narrative revealing its serpent’s head; and, yet, not stepping into the full light of time, but rather like a murky backwater wrapped in the flakes of cottonwood webs pulling us down into a deeper enigma from which there is neither escape nor redemption. This is Skillute’s riddle and enigma: a place where only death reigns supreme.

Get your copy today: on Amazon.com
Visit S.P. Miskowski: Blog and information...

S.P. Miskowski is a recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. Her stories have been published in Supernatural Tales, Black Static, Identity Theory, Strange Aeons and Eyedolon Magazine as well as in the anthologies Haunted Nights, The Madness of Dr. Caligari, October Dreams 2, Autumn Cthulhu, Cassilda’s Song, The Hyde Hotel, Darker Companions: Celebrating 50 Years of Ramsey Campbell, Tales from a Talking Board, Looming Low and The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten. Her second novel, I Wish I Was Like You, was named This Is Horror 2017 Novel of the Year. Her books have received three Shirley Jackson Award nominations and a Bram Stoker Award® nomination. Her M.F.A. is from the University of Washington. Her novels and novellas have been published by Omnium Gatherum, Dim Shores, Dunhams Manor Press and JournalStone/Trepidatio. She is represented by Danielle Svetcov at Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency.

Joel Lane on Lovecraft

Joel Lane on Lovecraft:

“…his work may, at its best, be nuanced and complex—but like the tortured landscapes of his major stories, it works out every deformation on its surface. Part of Lovecraft’s significance in the weird fiction genre is his commitment to making the unknown visible. He does so with a rhetorical flair that would ring hollow if it were not combined with a forensic attention to the meaning of details. The damaged reality he portrays is inscribed with the symptoms of disease and decay.

At its heart, Lovecraft’s narrative is one of loss: the loss of health, sanity, faith, home, family and identity. These protective shells around the human condition are not only broken by events in his stories, but are shown to be illusory. His use of supernatural horror and science fiction, and of an original mythology that blends the two, represents an increasingly subtle approach towards his core agenda of showing the human soul exposed to the cold wind of a terrible reality.

But although the sensibility underlying his stories is acutely personal, Lovecraft rarely dwells on the inner life of any character. Rather, he explores the development in space and time of malign or terrible processes, like a doctor tracking the progress of a disease. The most remarkable aspect of his storytelling is his commitment to giving horror a morbid geography and history of its own, while showing individuals caught up in its strands like moths that have flown blindly into a geometrical and lethal web.

Lovecraft’s stories blend the themes of death, madness and disease with the compensatory themes of intellectual and imaginative vision, always reaching towards a tragic perspective but withdrawing into irony, bitterness or violence. Closure is his comfort zone. Over two decades of writing he built increasingly complex and ambitious narratives, ultimately balancing his sense of loss with a commitment to the mysteries of a world beyond the human. That vision is expressed most starkly by his character Wilbur Whateley, who writes in his fourth year of life: ‘I wonder how I shall look when the earth is cleared and there are no earth beings on it.’ Becoming alien is a way to take meaning from the journey of alienation.”

– Joel Lane, This Spectacular Darkness: Critical Essays


Screen Life: Social Distancing as Norm

What happens in a world in which social distancing becomes the norm rather than the exception? J.G. Ballard in a comic venting once suggested there would come a time when,

“Every home will be transformed into its own TV studio. We’ll all be simultaneously actor, director and screenwriter in our own soap opera. People will start screening themselves. They will become their own TV programmes.”

In his short story Intensive Care Unit the protagonist describes growing up in isolation:

“As a child I had been brought up in the hospital crèche, and thus spared all the psychological dangers of a physically intimate family life (not to mention the hazards, aesthetic and otherwise, of a shared domestic hygiene). But far from being isolated I was surrounded by companions. On television I was never alone. In my nursery I played hours of happy games with my parents, who watched me from the comfort of their homes, feeding on to my screen a host of video-games, animated cartoons, wild-life films and family serials which together opened the world to me.”

In our age of mobile phones and laptops one imagines a Ballardian universe in which “social distancing” has become the new norm, and people carry on their lives in total isolation as if to meet in person was a terrible taboo never to be broken. Ballard describes this process too. Describing an abortive meeting between husband and wife after decades of separation (even their marriage had been performed via screen, etc.):

“After this first abortive meeting Margaret and I returned to the happy peace of our married life. So relieved was I to see her on the screen that I could hardly believe our meeting had ever taken place. Neither of us referred to the disaster, and to the unpleasant emotions which our brief encounter had prompted. During the next few days I reflected painfully on the experience. Far from bringing us together, the meeting had separated us. True closeness, I now knew, was television closeness – the intimacy of the zoom lens, the throat microphone, the close-up itself. On the television screen there were no body odours or strained breathing, no pupil contractions and facial reflexes, no mutual sizing up of emotions and advantage, no distrust and insecurity. Affection and compassion demanded distance. Only at a distance could one find that true closeness to another human being which, with grace, might transform itself into love.”

The notion of a world without contact, a world completely bound by closure, the enclosure of all society in isolated cells in which the screen, the virtual worlds of our mediated lives is carried on in purified environments for our own protection. A world of germ free intensive care units… a dystopian nightmare of absolute isolation.

  1. Ballard, J. G.. The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (p. 947). Norton. Kindle Edition.

What Keeps Us Going

Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence. —Jorge-Luis Borges

When I was a young man Nietzsche was my constant companion, a thinker I could argue with, hold infinite conversations with if only to debate his almost oracle like utterances. But then there came a time when I could not read his works at all, as if old friends had suddenly become enemies – not so much because we’d parted ways in our thoughts, but because his conversations ended in nothing going nowhere. His oracular voice just seemed absurd and repetitive to the point that none of his thoughts cohered anymore. Even now when I pick up one of his works (and, I’ve tried to reread him of late!) I fail at holding a conversation for more than a few minutes.

With certain other writers I’ve never had that issue. I’ve been of late rereading Jorge-Luis Borges’s fictions and non-fictions and poetry, along with his various conversations with friends over the years, and he above all authors is still with me as if his voice and utterance and conversational tone were my own. If there is something to Bloom’s theories of influence (and I believe there is!) it’s this staying power of certain authors to help one to continue a lifetime’s conversation. This inner dialogue (as old as Socrates and Plato) is at the heart of every writer’s and reader’s life. We all have those voices that seem to come and go like unwanted guests who prod us, cajole us, and awaken in us that need to talk and listen. I’ve only ever had a handful of those beings in my life and mind: E.M. Cioran, Jorge-Luis Borges, J.G. Ballard, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Ligotti and a few others that return time and again like old friends to occupy a few moments of my day in an endless or infinite conversation. Maybe that’s what keeps us going…

The City In Ruins: Joel Lane’s Lost Distract

CaptureThe more I read Joel Lane (working through my second collection The Lost District..) I’ve begun to realize that the hidden monster roaming the underbelly of the Black Country is the cityscapes of late capitalism, the ruins it has left behind, the corruption and toxicity of its duplicitous deregulation and dehumanizing processes. It’s this more than even the stubborn misfits and darkening minds that inhabit his bleak inscapes which is the true anti-hero of his fictions. Knowing he was a committed Socialist makes me realize that his works are personal critiques of our dark days under the broken system of capitalist culture and society which Marx described as “dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” Joel’s ability to touch the human in the midst of this wasteland is at the core of this bleak vision, and knowing as he does that nothing in our time is not stained by this corruption gives you a sense of the horror that most of us try to pretend isn’t there. He makes you not only see what is right in front of your face, but also touch that which cannot be made visible: the bloody beast of capitalism itself wriggling like some demented archon of madness just below the threshold. As Ramsey Campbell once said of Joel:

“As for his own work, it was as profound as his critiques. It was driven by the political beliefs he passionately held without, to my knowledge, ever trying to impose them on anyone, and by his deep humanism and his sympathy for his characters, often the excluded or oppressed.”


All the Things We Never See by Michael Kelly


Along with other collections I also began reading Michael Kelly’s All Things We Never See. Mark Fisher speaks of the eerie as an enigma of agency, a sense of that shadowy gap between presence and absence as if something should be there that isn’t; or that something that is there shouldn’t be. Michael’s first tale falls into that feeling of the enigma and eerily awakens in me a sense of both real and unreal happenings. On one hand it’s a tale of death, the death of a relationship: a couple trying for a moment to recapture a sense of something they both know has been lost, a knowing of some unknown gap that has opened up between them; an emptiness and absence that will never be filled again. And, yet, like many of us we continue to go through the motions, continue to try to make things work, try to fill that gap with false dreams and memories. It never works, it always fails. Yet, what happens now… what do we do with this failure? Ultimately it’s this enigma of a failing relationship that is confronted in a way that is both eerie and weird. It’s this transition between the two that keeps us reading the tale, not that it will be resolved, but that it will linger like all enigmas do in our mind like a lure pulling us toward the unknown and the darkness.

Reading the stories one is reminded “What is it we really see when we see?” These stories move beyond meaning, beyond the linguistic traps we set for ourselves, the deceptions of language and thought, and send us down into that realm of affective darkness where the churning impulses of will and drive, anxiety and terror sing to us without meaning and bring to us only the inner turmoil of emotions and deliriums. Each tale seems more like a dream sequence in some diary of secret desires, vignettes that are meant to trigger certain emotions and not others. I’ve not yet finished the book but feel its movements hollowing out a space in my inner being releasing spiders of memory and emotions that seem more like channeling rhythms of some deep ritualized world of ancient stars and alien aspirations.

A Somnambulant World


If we had a world all our own, it would matter little whether it was a world of piety or derision!

—E. M. Cioran,  The Temptation to Exist

What if the world has shifted into a mode of horror that has become so normalized that one no longer feels the horror? It’s as if everything and everyone around one has become a part of the weird and eerie expression of some master weaver of tales, and yet because they’ve all been blinded to the tale’s narrative they’ve become mere puppets and sleepwalkers within its dark hall of mirrors. Has our world become one of those funhouse amusement parks for some demented intelligence, a realm of pure insanity in which we’ve all become the somnambulants of an abyssal dream sequence without a plot. And, then again, maybe there is no great Magus anywhere in sight, no big Other behind the mask of terror, but rather the world is itself the fabulous tale of a complete indifference, a cosmic unraveling of such proportions that we’ve become complicit in its unfolding inanity.


Joel Lane’s tales are more phantasmagoria than horror, there’s this all pervading sense of doom hanging over each story hinting at terrible truths forever about to be revealed. His pessimism is of the type that implies something has gone terribly wrong with the universe rather than slapping your face with some monstrous effect. It’s as if one had just stepped out of a movie theatre into someone else’s life, a life that has been there in the sidereal sidelines all along inhabiting the blank spaces of our world and through no fault of our own we’ve suddenly entered the gap between these realms with no way back…

As in this fragment:

“Following the sound, Helen and Claire soon came to the shooting gallery. An excited group of stunted or deformed people were firing on a cage full of helpless figures. Claire stared for a long time—not at those shooting, but at their targets.

The lightning seemed to have brought the machines to life. The whole place was crowded now; though the passers-by walked not just through mud, but on sheets of water. Helen remembered the patches of deep flame she had seen from the wheel; they must have been submerged further, driven under the ground. It seemed as though the rain itself held light; falling, it made sharp near-vertical wires. Crossing these lines, between the stalls, were stretched horizontal barbed wires that looked ragged with shreds of torn cloth. Helen glimpsed a figure dancing close by. It was someone trapped in the machinery under the big wheel, jerking in pain as it spun round empty. There was no sound other than the creak and screech of metal, and the sharp cracks of air-rifles. The fairground resembled a battlefield.”

—Joel Lane, THE EARTH WIRE and Other Stories

What Do We Have That Stays


These few frayed memories drifting past,
ghosts of another age; and I, another ghost
deceived and deceiving, tempted to utter something, anything.

Even now I sift through these shadows wondering
What do we have that stays…


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2020 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Still Reading Joel Lane…

Still reading Joel Lane’s tales… each of his stories is like wandering in a bleak and desolate inferno, an emptied world where even ghosts seem thinner and more ruinous. Late in life Lane joined the Socialist party with his mum, and his commitment to the poor and outcast shows in every story I’ve read so far. He lived in Birmingham England and seems to have enjoyed walking through this old city, and yet his view of it indicates a darkening world of late capitalism where broken lives of the poor and workers and outcasts pervade a world in ruins. Finishing the story called The Canal one is given over to this desolation as if he’d discovered the river Styx and was about to depart life for the realms of the dead:

“Someone moved behind him. Paul turned and saw thin figures emerging from the alcoves, on both sides of the tunnel. One of the canal people stepped closer and touched Paul’s injured arm. It was still bleeding, but the fluid that ran from it wasn’t blood. Paul could see the blue of his own tattered shirt; and flowing from the wounds in his arm, a dirty water that smelt like the canal. The man behind him ripped the sleeve from his own shirt, then tied it around Paul’s arm. The flow stopped, but the numbness remained. Paul looked back at the face of the child. Other people were drawing closer around him. He wanted to tell them that he didn’t need to be rescued, that this was where he belonged. But he couldn’t speak. They seemed to understand in any case. Some of them helped him to climb aboard the barge. When the barge started to move, Paul realised the sunlight had deceived him. This wasn’t a tunnel; nor, strictly speaking, a canal.”

—Joel Lane, THE EARTH WIRE and Other Stories. Christopher Roden/Ash-Tree Press.

Most of his tales leave you in that undecided state, wondering and speculating as to just what had happened. An understated tone that leaves you in a state of brokenness without any firm answer or solution to the mystery. But this is as it should be for our world remains unresolved, and there are no answers to the strangeness.

On Stephen King

Read an article not favorable to Stephen King… (I want link it, not worth the effort… sorry.)

But I beg to differ…

King touches the mediocrity in us all. The bottom line is he is able to fathom the surface not depths of the American psyche, and what he found was its banal horror, its quiet modes of desperation and fear; that hauntings of the untutored mind. The truth is that the vast majority of Americans are not great readers, and for the most part fear intellectuals – the anti-intellectualist tradition and all that blather etc. But hey he has the genius to touch that dark corner of our society with an acumen that few before or since can duplicate. Maybe his banal horror is the true genius of the American psyche rather than all our hypercritical elitism put together…

I don’t read King because he brings us the latest philosophical fad, nor that he intellectualizes over the world’s pain, but rather because he is able to bring to the fore the lost souls of the American psyche, to put them on a page as banal as they are and make them live, love, dread, kill, maim, horrify, etc. It’s the ugly ducklings that cannot represent themselves that King lifts up and exposes to the mesh of his fevered mind. King has no pretenses to literature, but is and has always favored the pulp traditions of our country. Too many of our supposed cultural elite seem to see in this something beneath their reading habits. So be it. For me King brings to us the haunted inscapes of the real America exposed in the frying pan of pulp. And, yet, those who love the noir narratives of the great detective and crime fictions of the last century can understand King as one of theirs… even Lovecraft and Jim Thompson would have accepted this latter day pulpist against all the literati in history.

Weird Literature as Speculative Philosophy

One of the basics of Weird literature is the notion that it not reveal in complete detail the unknown, but that it should always leave that object just outside the purview of our common sense realist expectations. This notion that the Weird is always speculative, and that our access to the objects of its strange worlds should be through some form of indirect rather than direct vision is well illustrated by many of H.P. Lovecraft’s own tales. (No need to go into that here!) As Iain Hamilton Grant in a recent work suggests:

“…we can never get to a point where we know every dimension and quality of an object, and as such there will always be something about the object that escapes our translation. This is what the literary translator experiences when she sees her translation pulled in two competing directions – towards literal fidelity on the one hand and cultural/ contextual fidelity on the other. There will always be some dimension of a text that goes untranslated.”

Isn’t this the truth of most Weird literature? That the objects of dread, terror, and fear are always in excess of our ability to translate them into our normal everyday language and common sense reality? It’s these liminal edges of the real / unreal dichotomy that deliver us to that speculative mode of apprehension which suggests that for the most part we are blind to most of the world’s workings, that we live in and through a consciousness that is both limited and bound to a very small and finite spectrum of the Real. Weird literature explores these liminal zones reminding us of the strangeness of our world, and that’s what keeps our world open and incomplete; a world that can never be reduced to the circle of the known. There will always be something on the outside seeking entrance into our conscious minds, something strange and away that cannot be translated into our safe and secure worlds of thought. And, yet, that’s what keeps us alive and seeking answers, the unknown that is unknown. The closer we get to knowing this mystery the further it recedes from our grasp. It’s this limit, this edge of things that keeps us thinking, speculating, and seeking more and more investigations into the Weird and uncanny zones of being…

And, yet, there is another aspect of Weird literature, the notion that it is a critique of our limited fabrications and interpretations of the world. The notion that we seem to accept as given the accepted reality of the common sense world we all share and live in, and that the linguistic and imagistic safeguards that circumvent and lock us all in a shared and illusionary construction of reality may in the last instance be detrimental to our lives. This is the notion that Weird literature doesn’t so much expose us to the great outdoors of the strange, as it actually shows just how illusionary and manipulated we are by our socio-logical and cultural-ideological prisons that keep us bound to a false vision of the Real. By opening us to the intransigent and broken ruins that surround us the Weird exposes the breaks and gaps in our constructed worlds, releasing us into a world that is not only stranger than we thought, but stranger than we could ever imagine thereby freeing us to explore the edges of our own lives in a more empowered and unhindered way.

  1. Hamilton, Grant. The World of Failing Machines: Speculative Realism and Literature . John Hunt Publishing.

Pain Speaks

“Life is will-to-live, will is a lack, lack is pain, all life is pain.”
― Carlo Michelstaedter, La melodia del giovane divino: Pensieri, racconti, critiche

So the blind and mute pain of all the things that, in wanting to be, are not, will be farsighted and eloquent for the one who has taken on its persona, for in gray pleasure, in the finite pains of all things that, for fear of death, always repress it, he will hear it speak and see it… watch in anticipation,’ a good that those things do not have the courage to want. He will see that what men suffer for is not hunger, thirst, disease, or misfortune. Nor are food, drink, apparent health, what is in their hand but is not theirs (for they do not possess its power) what can make them content. He will see that obtuse pain suffers in them in every present, equally empty in abundance or privation. He will suffer at one and the same point of his deficiency and theirs: speaking the voice of his own pain, he will speak to them the distant voice of their own pain. Just as in his intense activity he will be close to satiating his own pain, so he will place near them a life by which they will see the weave of what presses and distracts them gradually unravel; they will find themselves being stable without the fear of instability; they will see the walls of the tiny room of their misery torn asunder at a stroke and their tiny light grow dim when he appears like the dawn of a new day and the outside darkness is no longer there to press them with its terror. Freed from what they believe indispensable, from cares, from the weight of the myriad little things in which their life always dissipates and around which it always turns, from all the misery of their pettiness, they will taste the joy of a fuller present in the impossible, the unbearable. They will see that there is nothing to fear, nothing to seek, nothing to flee from—hunger is not hunger, bread is not bread; for they will experience their hunger in another manner, and other bread will have been offered to them. No longer will they feel cold or fatigue, pains here and desires there; nor will they be frustrated by need but will feel their life gathered in the present, for at one point they will have been made participants in a vaster and deeper life.

from Persuasion and Rhetoric by Carlo Michelstaedter

Michelstaedter killed himself in 1910, at 23. The reason for his action, as is often the case with suicides, remains purely speculative. Yet he left enough material to give some support to conjectures on the existential crisis that brought him to his precocious end.

In a letter to his sister Paula, who, like the Paolina of Leopardi, was also his confidant, Carlo made a lucid diagnosis of his illness:

It is in part an individual condition, in part the illness of the age [la malattiad ell’e poca] insofar as moral balance is concerned, because we are presently living in an age in which changes in society seem to go hand-in-hand with a dissolution of all bonds . . . and the pathways of existence are no longer sharply drawn . . . and it depends upon personal initiative to create the luminous path through universal chaos.

  1. Michelstaedter, Carlo. Persuasion and Rhetoric. Yale University Press (September 10, 2004)

Joel Lane – One of the “Miserabilists”

Rereading some of Joel Lane’s stories. There’s a sense of quiet desperation, loneliness, the drift of gray days and lives that seem forever to dissolve into spider webs of chaos.

“What cried out in her mind, still, wasn’t the atrocity half-realised in her or waiting to be fulfilled in others. It was the simple misery of knowing that the group had created something to unite them. And it had only left each of them feeling more alone.”

– Joel Lane, THE EARTH WIRE and Other Stories

Joshi says of him:

“Joel Lane (b. 1963) began publishing in the late 1980s and has written novels, stories, and poems. He has often been referred to as one of the “Miserabilists”— a writer whose unrelenting focus on death, poverty, and hopelessness renders his work the fictional equivalent of the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. But his tales are undeniably effective and often constitute significant social commentary on the social and economic inequalities of contemporary England.”

—S. T. Joshi, Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction

Amateur Philosophy?

Amateur Philosophy?

Always irks me when I read a critic discussing Thomas Ligotti as an “amateur philosopher” (whatever the heck that is… as what? compared to a “professional” philosopher?). As Ligotti has stated in several interviews it wasn’t philosophy per se that interested him, he wasn’t interested in concepts, what interested him was certain problems. In his Conspiracy he was interested only in explaining the ideas of Peter Wessel Zapffe and how they relate to the following specialized problem:

“Is being alive all right?”

Ligotti continues:

“Zapffe viewed consciousness as an emergent property of the brain that occurred at some point in the physical evolution of human beings. Consciousness as a biological phenomenon is also the view of respectable and well-known philosophers like John Searle. But I decided not to go into either parallel or rival theories of consciousness to that of Zapffe. That would have eaten up pages at a point in the book where I thought I needed to move on and get as fast as possible to my principal interest: “Is being alive all right.” It would have gotten into technical longueurs and made The Conspiracy against the Human Race a work of philosophy, or, more accurately, a sad attempt at writing a work of philosophy that could be revered and famously misunderstood. That wasn’t my aim. I wanted to write about how I saw human existence— and nothing else.”

Remember he didn’t call it The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror for nothing… Contrivance: Sense evolution (in French) was from “invent with ingenuity” to “invent falsely.” And, horror: a sense of “dread, veneration, religious awe”. You get the sense that Ligotti’s book is a machine for contriving and probing the extremes of human consciousness under the shadow of dread and wonder.