E.M. Cioran: Metaphysical Existentialism

“Ecstasy—exaltation in immanence, illumination, a vision of this world’s madness—such is the basis of any metaphysics, valid even in the final moments of life.”
—E.M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

Metaphysical Existentialist

E.M. Cioran in youth aspired to the ecstatic notion of metaphysical existentialism:

“A metaphysical existential feeling is by definition ecstatic, and all metaphysical systems have roots in forms of ecstasy. There are many other forms of ecstasy which, given a certain spiritual or temperamental configuration, do not necessarily lead to transcendence. Why shouldn’t there be an ecstasy of pure existence? Metaphysical existentialism is born out of ecstasy in front of the world’s primordial origins; it is the ultimate intoxication, ecstatic bliss in the contemplation of essence. Ecstasy—exaltation in immanence, illumination, a vision of this world’s madness—such is the basis of any metaphysics, valid even in the final moments of life. Any true ecstasy is dangerous. It resembles the last stage of initiation in the Egyptian mysteries when, instead of the ultimate knowledge, one is told, “Osiris is a black divinity.” The absolute remains unlovable. I see a form of madness, not of knowledge, in the ecstasy of life’s ultimate origins. You cannot experience it except in solitude, when you feel as if you were floating above the world. Solitude is the proper milieu for madness. It is noteworthy that even the skeptic can experience this kind of ecstasy. Does not the madness of ecstasy reveal itself through this odd combination of certitude and essence with doubt and despair?

Nobody will experience ecstasy without having experienced despair beforehand, because both states presuppose equally radical purifications, though different in kind.”

– On the Heights of Despair

The Madness of Reason

“What if there were only absurd motives for living? Could they still be called motives?”
—E.M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

Reason is the Greatest Illusionist. E.M. Cioran in most ways agrees with Schopenhauer’s judgment on existence, that at heart it is absolutely irrational and that all our thought of founding ‘Sufficient Reason’ is null and void (of course Schopenhauer’s whole philosophy founders on just this point, having built the cornerstone of his whole system on the principle of ‘Sufficient Reason’):

“Although life for me is torture, I cannot renounce it, because I do not believe in the absolute values in whose name I would sacrifice myself. If I were to be totally sincere, I would say that I do not know why I live and why I do not stop living. The answer probably lies in the irrational character of life which maintains itself without reason.”

The Voluntarist (philosophers of Will) appeal is without doubt the notion of this dark and imponderable thing that cannot be named or accessed directly but known only indirectly and through its many masks (Medusa, Noumenon, Will-to-live, Will-to-power, la de da…). Lovecraft’s Cthulhu typifies this unnamable blind idiot god or demiurgic force that through irrational impulse drives the engine of creation by destruction in a never-ending Lucretian swerve of repetition around the absolute zero of the abysmal voids on nothingness that is less than nothing: a movement in stasis or Bergsonian temporality (duration). Each philosopher after Kant played a variation or jazz theme of a melody that has since Plato been at the core of philosophical madness. Each has sought above all a new Reason, a foundation without foundation for logic, math, language, etc. to which humans might find some hint of order and harmony in the universe of absolute contingency and chaos. Finding none they say “if only” we had better tools or pushing it off into some impossible future – if only we wait it will arrive out of that silence and impossible future. This too is madness: the Madness of Reason.

Eros and Despair

“To hell with reality! I want to die in music, not in reason or in prose. People don’t deserve the restraint we show by not going into delirium in front of them. To hell with them!”
― Louis-Ferdinand Celine

My nephew and his wife have been taking care of her now twenty-year-old brother since the mom passed on last year. He was a druggie since twelve, never had a chance in the environment of his older brothers who were drug dealers. No common sense, no ability to work or even understand the need to survive in this fucked world. His brain is mush. The reason I bring it up I was myself there once. Only it came in Viet Nam where I was plunged into a nightmare from which it took a decade to regain some sort of existence. Never normal, I’ve lived in the street levels, seen the despair and hopelessness in those who live in that cesspool of self-destruction. No one can understand it unless they’ve lived it. No one. One can point to writers like Celine to get an idea of the monstrousness of self and others, of the darkest pits of war, pain, self-destruction, suicide, and despair. One either becomes indifferent and cynical or one pushes through to a darker vitalism of erotic pessimism. I pushed…

I’ve delved into the darkest literatures of the world, know the ways of suffering, pain, and despair without redemption and salvation. An absolute atheist I live in the darkness where reality is shriven of its shroud of delusions and illusions. Stripped to the bone in a world hell made, I live like a vagrant fool of time, a trickster of the comic void. Knowing as I know that we are mistakes, errors in the process of an endless creation by destruction I stand whole and amazed among the ruins. To live in the midst of the maelstrom like a phantom, a wisp of wind, a flowing fire among the traceries of time where the tears blossom like a thousand eyes folding in on the immanence of love and death. This is the only reprieve in this life or any other. There is only the moment of movement; it moves…

On Desire: Lack and Fullness

“…this is love – I have my self-consciousness”
― Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Ultimately, it is the desire, not the desired, that we love.
― Friedrich Nietzsche

““There is something in you I like more than yourself. Therefore I must destroy you”
― Jacques Lacan

“If you’re trapped in the dream of the Other, you’re fucked.”
― Gilles Deleuze

At root there are two notions of Desire in our age: Hegel’s built of “lack” — coming from the ancient Greeks notion of Prometheus and Epimetheus myths; and Deleuze’s notion of the pleroma-fullness and positivity of the Unconscious as power, cruelty, and sadism – the drivenness of the Will-to-life/power (mastery) of Schopenhauer-Nietzsche. Anne Carson’s Eros – The Bittersweet takes up the ancient thread of desire and cruelty that would be in our age best typified dramatically by Artaud-Beckett-Kane (Sarah Kane).

Anne Carson:

The Greek word eros denotes ‘want,’ ‘lack,’ ‘desire for that which is missing.’ The lover wants what he does not have. It is by definition impossible for him to have what he wants if, as soon as it is had, it is no longer wanting. This is more than wordplay. There is a dilemma within eros that has been thought crucial by thinkers from Sappho to the present day. Plato turns and returns to it. Four of his dialogues explore what it means to say that desire can only be for what is lacking, not at hand, not present, not in one’s possession nor in one’s being: eros entails endeia.1

As Diotima puts it in the Symposium, Eros is a bastard got by Wealth on Poverty and ever at home in a life of want. (Carson) She deepens it into existential modernity: “Sartre has less patience with the contradictory ideal of desire, this “dupery.” He sees in erotic relations a system of infinite reflections, a deceiving mirror-game that carries within itself its own frustration (1956, 444-45). For Simone de Beauvoir the game is torture: “The knight departing for new adventures offends his lady yet she has nothing but contempt for him if he remains at her feet. This is the torture of impossible love …” (1953, 619). Jacques Lacan puts the matter somewhat more enigmatically when he says “Desire … evokes lack of being under the three figures of the nothing that constitutes the basis of the demand for love, of the hate that even denies the other’s being, and of the unspeakable element in that which is ignored in its request” (1966, 28).”

The sense of lack as fullness in search of its lost object of desire Carson says,

“Every hunting, hungering lover is half of a knucklebone, wooer of a meaning that is inseparable from its absence. The moment when we understand these things— when we see what we are projected on a screen of what we could be— is invariably a moment of wrench and arrest. We love that moment, and we hate it. We have to keep going back to it, after all, if we wish to maintain contact with the possible. But this also entails watching it disappear. Only a god’s word has no beginning or end. Only a god’s desire can reach without lack. Only the paradoxical god of desire, exception to all these rules, is neverendingly filled with lack itself.”

My own take…

Filled with lack we seek to extricate ourselves from it, overflowing in the merciless cruelty of our dark and erotic vitalism we plunder the cosmos to escape it. We are so full of Life we seek to overcome it in our impossible immanence of Death. The cruelty of Life is this quest for Death. What we lack is death itself. We wallow in the cesspool of lack like children in a mud hole, our bodies covered in shit till we are so full of filth we puke it in excess of our being. Lacking Nothing we seek to exude it into the cosmos. That’s the sense of it. If we lack anything at all it’s this sense of lacking nothingness absolutely. Why? Because we seem so doggedly in pursuit of it through most of our philosophical heritage. Our cruelty and sadism are at heart this pursuit of lack. Unable to accept the truth of our nothingness, we fill the world with our delusions and illusions. We seek to substitute our nothingness for the nothingness of existence. In a strange twist it is this positivity of the negative that Deleuze in a pure reversal of the heritage of Hegel-Freud-Lacan opened the eyes on to the erotics of cruelty, lust, and sadism. For Deleuze desire is not a psychic existence, not lack, but an active and positive reality, an affirmative vital force. We lust, we hate, we devour ourselves and others as we affirm this inner movement of the Will. We can do nothing else. This is what is – this demoniacal force of creation and destruction, blind and eternal in its mutations and metamorphoses.

  1. Carson, Anne. Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay. Princeton University Press.

(I need to develop this more…)


“They realize their ultimate doom, but they are fatalists, incapable of resistance or escape.”
—Robert E. Howard

He didn’t belong, he never belonged. Even as a child he felt different, alone. Others sensed this about him and shunned him, made fun of him and his odd ways. He didn’t mind, he didn’t care. He loved being alone and away from the others, the tribe. He’d wander in the forests for weeks away from his own kind. He felt a deep kindredness with the things of the forests, rivers, and mountains. They spoke to him, not in any meaningful sense; but as if they sensed his inner nature, knew he was one of them and not of the clans. He distrusted his own kind, saw their weakness and cowardice, their fears as he moved among them. He knew they sensed his inner strength and did not belong among them. He liked this sense of power and fear over the others, and yet he felt a certain sadness that he could never explain; a sense that he could never be like them, never belong. He was isolate, absolutely alone and without companions.

He was morbid and morose at times wandering among the swamps and dens of ancient creatures like some dark beast, his mind full of furious intent. At such times he’d feel an inner surge of energy, a vital power arising out of his body; a fire that needed to be unleashed. It consumed him. He would go blank, mindless, dark. After such incidents he’d awaken with blood in his mouth, shreds of flesh and bits of bone jutting from his thick lips. He’d see scars and cuts across his chest and hands, unknowing what this all meant. He did not fear this, but thought it was something that was part of who he was and his destiny. But he wanted to know, wanted to be aware of his power, his change. He dreamed of strange beings, of things that seemed to know and feel as he did. They were always there, just out of site. He felt them, sensed their presence. He did not fear them as others did. He did not believe in the ghosts of the tribe, the dead who walked in the night: the draugrs of the tombs and burials mounds. No, these were creatures of the forest, dark like he was; shadow people who lived in the solitudes, alone and indifferent to the loves and hates of humans. He knew this instinctively. They were a part of who he was, he knew. No, one had to tell him. He needed to know what he might be. He needed answers.

They say his mother came from the land of shadows, that she was not one of them. Some believed she was of another kind, a strangeness about her; the way she would stare into nothingness, her eyes going blank, seeing something that was and was not there. She was the herbalist and keeper of plants and the knowledge of roots and berries, remedies, a healer among the people. But they did not like her. She was not one of them. She taught him that he, too, was different. She once said to him: “You will become something else one day; you’ll know when the time is time. You’ll know what to do. No one will have to teach you, guide you. You have my blood in you. We are not alone.” He did not understand this at the time. He still did not understand it, but he felt it. He knew it in the deeps of his body; in those depths of darkness something stirred, something coming alive in his dreams and thoughts. A knowing that knew things.

After many weeks in the forest, he returned to his village. Approaching it from the distance he saw smoke and ashes rising from the trees; a sickly-sweet oder, pungent and nauseous filling his nostrils as he stepped closer. Entering the village he saw death everywhere, the corpses of his people littering the grounds before their huts, some whose heads had been shorned were fitted to spears in a circle at the center of the conclave. The village was a pile of ashes and embers, nothing remained. Nothing alive. He couldn’t even find his dwelling where his mother carried on her healing practices. He could not find her among the dead. Where was she? What had happened? He had never witnessed such a thing before. He did not understand. There was something wrong, something deadly and terrible. He felt a presence, a monstrous thing had come and gone like a great summer storm leaving nothing in its wake but death and destruction. Something in him knew what this was; felt it, sensed it; no one had to tell him. He knew evil when he saw it. And he knew another thing: darkness and rage enveloped him, and he would avenge this atrocity if it were the last thing he ever did. He knew the fire of rage; and the darkening came alive in him. He knew instinctively who and what he was. He was not man, he was of another order of being; and, yet, the blood of the human had mingled with his own dark tribe. Their scent and stain would remain.


She studied the man from a distance. His wavy folds of jet-black hair flinging river water as he shook the wet blades from his dark locks. His black beard, thick and wiry enfolded him in a brutal vitality. Eyes full of fierce fire, their black depths glinting with amber flicks of light not so much from the sun as from some inner depth of fire and magic. She did not know this man. He was not of her tribe. Yet, she did not fear him. Sensed something alive and full of the forest in him. He did not seem quite human; yet, he looked human. His naked body glistening in the sunlight was powerful like a bear. His legs seemed more like a runner of the paths, one who was steeped in the lore of distances and wildness.

Suddenly looking up she saw him staring deeply into her blue fiery eyes. He seemed both curious and aware; there was a keening in those eyes, an intelligence both alien and enlightened. He knew things; this one did. She sensed him studying her with a curiosity as well. Then he spoke in a strange tongue she seemed to recognize at once.

“So are you going to just sit there in the bushes and spy on me,” he laughed. “Or do you seek to steal my clothes and valuables while I bathe?” He smiled, neither alarmed nor unfriendly.

Dismayed, she was at a loss for words. She looked away. She did not know what to do or say. She glanced back and he was gone. His things, gone. Then as suddenly like some beast of the forest he was behind her. Smiling, gently.

She jumped.

“I didn’t mean to frighten you its just I do not usually find someone spying on me while I plunge my filth in rivers every day. Do you have name?”

Stunned. She went on the attack: “I don’t know you, why should I give you my name? You’re a strange man, where do you come from? Or do you just live in the forest like the wild beasts?”

He looked quizzically at her, saying, “I don’t have a home. I live where I am. That’s how I’ve always lived. Doesn’t matter whether in forest of village I live, eat, sleep, and now chat with children who creep up on me in bathing.”

She laughed in spite of herself. “You’re a strange one. Who do you belong too? What people? Where do you come from? Why are you here? What is your purpose? Why should I talk to you? I don’t know you.”

“That’s right, and I don’t know you.” He picked up his things and started walking away.

Surprised, she didn’t know what to do or think. He was leaving when he’d just arrived. Where was he going? Who did he think he was walking in the tribal forests? This strange man…

“Who are you? What is your name?”

As he continued walking, he spoke softly: “They call me Shendari. That’s enough.” Then he slipped into the trees, silently and was gone.

She stood there a moment frozen, unable to move or think or speak. Then shouted at the darkness: “But you don’t know who I am!”

From somewhere in the darkness, she heard laughter and a soft voice whispering: “Who says I don’t know you, Talia! I know things that even you don’t know about yourself.”

She felt a shadow pass over her. Who was this man? Why did she feel she knew him when she didn’t? How did he know her name? Both a sense of fear and delight surged within her. She too, felt a sense of darkness within awakening.


I’ve needed to work on my grimdark novel for a long while… the dark contours of nihil, madness, pessimism, solitude, mayhem, dark vitalism, etc. coming out through the Conan strain.

E.M. Cioran’s Psychosis: The Agony of Existence

“Are you familiar with the frightening sensation of melting, the feeling of dissolving into a flowing river, in which the self is annulled by organic liquidization? Everything solid and substantial in you melts away in a wearisome fluidity, and the only thing left is your head. I’m speaking of a precise painful sensation, not a vague and undetermined one. As in a hallucinatory dream, you feel that only your head is left, without foundation and support, without a body. This feeling has nothing to do with that vague and voluptuous weariness by the seaside or in melancholy dreamy musings; it is a weariness which consumes and destroys. No effort, no hope, no illusion can satisfy you any longer. Shocked witless by your own catastrophe, unable to think or to act, caught in cold and heavy darkness, solitary as in moments of profound regret, you have reached the negative limit of life, its absolute temperature, where the last illusions about life freeze. The true meaning of agony, which is not a struggle of pure passion or gratuitous fantasy, but life’s hopeless struggle in the claws of death, is revealed in this feeling of great weariness. One cannot separate the thought of agony from that of weariness and death.”1

—E.M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

In one of his aphorisms Cioran tells us: “I cannot contribute anything to this world because I only have one method: agony. You complain that people are mean, vengeful, ungrateful, and hypocritical? I propose the agony method to rid you of all these imperfections.”1 Going on the offer (if only he could),

If I could, I would drive the entire world to agony to achieve a radical purification of life; I would set a fire burning insidiously at the roots of life, not to destroy them but to give them a new and different sap, a new heat. The fire I would set to the world would not bring ruin but cosmic transfiguration. (ibid.)

Cioran speaks of the limit of life, of mind, of thought as it liquifies and melts into that dark void of absolute zero: the abyss within the abysmal blackness of the nihil at the extreme point of circular frozenness bound to a mad thought that offers neither salvation nor redemption but only the bleak infinity of silence. Let’s not forget that Dante envisioned the deepest circle of hell as a landscape of absolute frozenness, the site the demon, demiurge, devil, or blind idiot god of time and space was impaled upside-down in tohu-bohu chaos. One could say the Cioran’s works are one long agony, a narrative and confrontation with his own psychosis that repeats this insight of agony and absurdity of existence without end. Was Cioran’s work in this sense a form of Kusters “psychotic praxis”: negative vita mystica psychotica  — a negative way or negation of negation as absolute negation of all that is and is not life, self, and world?

The true meaning of agony, which is not a struggle of pure passion or gratuitous fantasy, but life’s hopeless struggle in the claws of death, is revealed in this feeling of great weariness. One cannot separate the thought of agony from that of weariness and death.

—Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

In his Philosophy of Madness, the philosopher Wouter Kusters describes his own personal experience of psychosis and how philosophy and philosophers are related to it: “My examination of the philosophy of madness reached its apex in July 2007, when I finished a major paper on the philosophy of the experience of time in psychosis. In combination with other stress factors, the steady flow of philosophical deliberation on the subject of psychosis swept me away that summer and plunged me right into the heart of the object itself: a full-blown acute psychosis. It is this possible maddening effect of certain words and thoughts that constitutes the second thematic line of this book. I demonstrate how my own philosophical attitude led to psychotic praxis, and I argue that this is a more common occurrence; that is, a certain kind of consistent philosophizing may very well result in confusion, paradoxes, unworldy insights, and circular frozenness that is reminiscent of madness— which in fact is what happened to quite a few philosophers who are far from unimportant, such as Thomas Aquinas, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Georg Cantor. I give examples of this, from myself and others, but I also demonstrate it by letting the controlled language of philosophical observation and reflection slowly but surely shift toward its object— that is, madness— .”1

Strangely, Death Metal and Black Metal music seems to enter this void as well, a strange mixture of rage and silence commingled in the daemonic laughter of psychosis as if the demons of the mind were set loose in a frenzied dance of extreme chaotica.

  1. Cioran, E.M. On the Heights of Despair. University of Chicago Press; 1st edition (October 1, 1996)
  2. Kusters, Wouter, A Philosophy of Madness: The Experience of Psychotic Thinking. The MIT Press (December 1, 2020)

On Nihilism

Nihilism: any aim is lacking, any answer to the question “why” is lacking. What does nihilism mean?–that the supreme values devaluate themselves.
—Friedrich Nietzsche

The basic premise that the objective universe exists at all comes into question under nihilism, and especially the notion that there is any absolute criteria for objective knowledge or meaning we can gain from it. The universe is nihil and void, without meaning and completely indifferent to our need for meaningful extraction from its ongoing processual ordering of chaotic processes. The universe is or is not; that’s all we can say. An absurdity to be sure, but absurdity is the limit of the mind driven and obsessed with meaning in a non-meaningful situation. The only meanings we can input to the universe are those nice little fictions of language and math that hollow out the chinks and crannies of the brain’s intrusion into the strange and mysterious chaotics of this unknown thing. Oh, yes, even though the universe has no objective meaning does not mean that we cannot tinker with its strangeness, sometimes even to our own destructive ends: the atomic and nuclear forces unleashed in various atomic, hydrogen, and neutron bombs are very proof of this destructive power at the core of the unknown. We play in a sandbox we did not make and do not know, and yet we can move the toys around in this fabricated delusion and illusion of a human world to our own unhappy conclusion.

Even the above arises in the shared notion that words do contain a ‘shared or consensual illusion’ that can be conveyed from solitude to solitude, our psyches being closed off from access other than machinic graphics which say nothing in themselves beyond the meanings we add to them We are all in a closed box sharing in the illusion that each of us is in fact real, that the other exists and we can speak, write, communicate with each other. Humans have torn this whole strange trick of mind apart for at least several thousand years seeking to know how, why, what, etc. we are doing with a mind that thinks and is conscious. We still don’t know which leads us to the realization: Does it really matter that this nothing between nothings that will end in nothingness seems so full of this thing termed ‘life’? No. In the end all our fictions of meaning come down to a child’s toy set for endless days of bliss in a sandbox.

E.M. Cioran’s Carnival of Death: The Mask of Medusa

“To see how death spreads over this world, how it kills a tree and how it penetrates dreams, how it withers a flower or a civilization, how it gnaws on the individual and on culture like a destructive blight, means to be beyond tears and regrets, beyond system and form. Whoever has not experienced the awful agony of death, rising and spreading like a surge of blood, like the choking grasp of a snake which provokes terrifying hallucinations, does not know the demonic character of life and the state of inner effervescence from which great transfigurations arise. Such a state of black drunkenness is a necessary prerequisite to understanding why one wishes the immediate end of this world. It’s not the luminous drunkenness of ecstasy, in which paradisal visions conquer you with their splendor and you rise to a purity that sublimates into immateriality, but a mad, dangerous, ruinous, and tormented black drunkenness, in which death appears with the awful seduction of nightmarish snake eyes. To experience such sensations and images means to be so close to the essence of reality that both life and death shed their illusions and attain within you their most dramatic form. An exalted agony combines life and death in a horrible maelstrom: a beastly satanism borrows tears from voluptuousness. Life as a long agony on the road to death is nothing but another manifestation of life’s demoniacal dialectics, in which forms are given birth only to be destroyed. The irrationality of life manifests itself in this overhelming expansion of form and content, in this frenetic impulse to substitute new aspects for old ones, a substitution, however, without qualitative improvement. Happy the man who could abandon himself to this becoming and could absorb all the possibilities offered each moment, ignoring the agonizingly problematic evaluation which discovers in every moment an insurmountable relativity. Naiveté is the only road to salvation. But for those who feel and conceive life as a long agony, the question of salvation is a simple one. There is no salvation on their road.”

– E.M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

Thomas Ligotti’s Quotes on E.M. Cioran

When men can no longer bear the monotony and the banality of ordinary existence, they will find in each experience of the absolute an opportunity to commit suicide. The impossibility of surviving such extraordinary states of exaltation will destroy existence.

—E.M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

I may have said once or twice that I’d like to unmake or destroy the universe. But I don’t see how that casts me as a misanthrope. It’s just the grandiose aspiration of an ordinary pessimist.

—Thomas Ligotti (Interview)

I’ve read E.M. Cioran for decades, and for all his dark thoughts he did not go the full measure of its black mapping; no, he held back, he still dreamed the impossible dream of a childhood paradise, a place of refuge and comfort. No, Cioran still held out hope in his hopelessness, sought in the darkest abyss of existence for a glint of that secret portal into bliss and mystic delight. Failing this he was obliterated and ruined by its temptations till the end. Knowing that paradise is another hopeless dream he ended in the futility of all who hope, their hopelessness turning and spinning among its afterglow like children lost in a garden dreaming only to discover it is a pure and absolute nightmare land.

Once again, I’m rereading Cioran from the beginning for my book on Ligotti, seeing him through that author’s eyes (a fantasy of my own deep seated revisioning). His books:

On the Heights of Despair
The Book of Delusions
The Transfiguration of Romania
Tears and Saints
The Passionate Handbook
A Short History of Decay
All Gall Is Divided
The Temptation to Exist
History and Utopia
The Fall into Time
The New Gods
The Trouble with Being Born
Drawn and Quartered
Anathemas and Admirations
My country
Cahiers 1957–1972 (“Notebooks”), Gallimard 1997

Ligotti’s quotes on Cioran in the Interviews:

“The Medusa” is my E.M. Cioran story: Thomas Ligott

The last great literary hero of mine was William S. Burroughs, and he’s been dead for some time now. I’m really very cynical about art with a capital “A” versus popular art. If you stand a certain distance away, which is the only place to stand, it all looks much the same. I patronize popular art in the form of movies and television. I have favorite movies and TV shows. But no movie or TV show will ever be able to provide me with the near fathomless pleasures I’ve derived, for example, from the stories of Jorge Luis Borges and Dino Buzzati, the essays of E. M. Cioran, or the poetry of Giacomo Leopardi. However, in the end, it’s all just entertainment.

To name only non-horror authors: Raymond Chandler, Philip Larkin, Vladimir Nabokov, Bruno Schulz, Dino Buzzati, Hagiwara Sakutaro, Thomas Bernhard, William Burroughs, Jorge Luis Borges, E. M. Cioran, Sadeq Hedeyat, S. I. Witkiewicz, Roland Topor. These are some of the authors whose complete works, and most secondary works on them, I’ve bought and read.

I just finished reading an essay called “The Last Messiah” by the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe. It was written the 1930s and is the only work by Zapffe to be translated into English. In Zapffe’s view, human beings in general and human consciousness in particular are a mistake of nature and that the human species should stop reproducing as soon as possible in order to put an end to the tragic horror of our lives as conscious beings who spend all our time deceiving ourselves that life is worth living. This is a very concise statement of the sort of attitude that I find in authors who have most attracted my interest, including Schopenhauer, Lovecraft, E. M. Cioran, and certain Buddhist writers.

Thomas Bernhard very much resembles E. M. Cioran, whose philosophical essays are an assault on the highest level of the pure crumminess of all creation, a position that has led some commentators to classify him as a latter-day Gnostic— minus any god. Like Bernhard, Cioran is a consummate stylist, which is a vital quality for any writer whose essential attitude is that of negation. Readers with put up with the sloppiest, most puerile, and intellectually commonplace writer if only he brings them comforting lies. If you have nothing but bad news to offer, then you had better write in a sterling and entertaining manner. Both Lovecraft and Poe have been criticized for writing badly, which in their case means writing in an overly melodramatic style. It’s true that their prose is high-strung to hysterical. It’s also true that if they had not written in this way, nobody would be reading them today. The quality of their writing is precisely the reason that their works have endured. The darkest vision of life requires the most dazzling pyrotechnics of language. Of course, neither Lovecraft nor Poe is in the same literary class as Shakespeare, but Shakespeare’s plays are more tricked up soap operas than a vision of . . . anything. This qualifies in the eyes of some as that wise man of no opinions mentioned above or at least in a league with Stephen Dedalus’s artist-god who stands above creation paring his fingernails. How lofty and yet how human! It must be nice.

As for Cioran, he condemned the whole of Creation, in so many words, as a flaw in the natural order of nothingness. I couldn’t agree more.

These days I read only nonfiction, if I read anything at all. I recently reread all of E. M. Cioran’s works. That took a while. I’ve read a number of works relating to consciousness studies and, of course, mental illness. Those are very technical and hard on the brain, so I often search out video or audio lectures or interviews by the authors of these works on the Web. In the past year I read On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death by Jean Améry and Persuasion and Rhetoric by Carlo Michelstaedter. Both of these authors killed themselves, but their books would still be interesting if they hadn’t. I still read works by and about Buddhists.

…since the nineteenth century more and more have been allowed by the world to appear in greater numbers. At the moment I can’t think of anyone who qualifies as a mutant making an appearance since the death of E. M. Cioran, or at least anyone has written in English or been translated into English. But my standards for this sort of thing are pretty high.

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race is a pessimistic book, though it has often been found to be comical, even by those who did not endorse its views. Every pessimistic writer desires to write something that will cause a violent reaction in the reader’s mind. E. M. Cioran has written of composing a work that would cause the universe to explode. This is obviously a metaphorical ambition. But it was also my ambition, in addition to writing a self-help book for the terminally desperate and those who were tired of trying to pretend that being alive was all right.

Romanian-French writer E. M. Cioran wrote, pleasure simply prepares pain. I may have said once or twice that I’d like to unmake or destroy the universe. But I don’t see how that casts me as a misanthrope. It’s just the grandiose aspiration of an ordinary pessimist.

Thomas Ligotti’s Counter Reading of H.P. Lovecraft

Maurice Levy in his critical introduction to the Life and Works of H.P. Lovecraft – ‘Lovecraft: A Study In The Fantastic’ – makes the observation that he sought above all a rootedness in the Earth and his native New England. He needed the mythical paradise of childhood to anchor and stabilize his life and imagination:

“New England was also Lovecraft’s native soil, the only point on earth with which he could totally identify. This obscure emotion of belonging, of rootedness, was for him the primordial condition of all plenitude. He tells us that his vital force, like that of Antaeus, depends strictly on contact with the Mother Earth who bore him. Everyone knows that we dream well when living in that absolutely intimate region of our childhood: Only the “natal home” can be changed into a dream-dwelling.” (p. 36)

In direct counter to Lovecraft’s need for rootedness and a childhood paradise (oddly akin to Cioran!) Ligotti shows us the other side of the coin: Ligotti imagines a nightmare world of childhood and rootlessness (akin to Kafka’s need to be “elsewhere”) in which there is no distinct affinity for earth, locale, or the past. Rather for Ligotti there is a sense of the absolute unreality of all history, place, and imaginative need. Ligotti’s world is a Gothic womb and tomb within which we are trapped in a nightmare of consciousness, our lives lived as zombies, puppets, and mannikins under the tutelage of demiurgic forces of a blind idiot god. For Ligotti the earth does not exist; and the villages, towns, and cities are all shadows of a dark nightmare world where the denizens habituate a counter-world of limbo filled madness, mayhem, and religious-psychological manias.

The more I read Lovecraft I come to know not a scientific materialist but a man whose inner disposition goes against the secular worldview and has a deep affinity for a mythical and idealized realm whose core aesthetic and philosophy are more akin to Lord Dunsany than Poe’s phantasmagorias or Ligotti’s Unreal world of Nightmares. He was even against himself an Idealist in the strict sense of seeking another ‘world’ beyond and the ‘Idea’ of that utopic notion: a sense and need for transcending this mundane realm in which he saw nothing but his worst nightmares. For him modernity, progressive democratic and the work-a-day world of the lower classes were a horror to be expunged rather than extolled. Deeply conservative and even a lover of fascist ideology and the Southern mythologies of the Ku Klux Klan etc. he saw “creeping socialism” as a disease to be expunged and eradicated. One can see why there has been so much controversary surrounding his life. And, yet his art and aesthetic are deeply influenced by a morbid and darker view based on pessimism and nihilism which would play out against his own inner phobias, hatreds, and despairing sense of failure.

In my own work on Thomas Ligotti, I’ll be discussing aspects of this in more detail in my various commentaries on the thematic elements: philosophy, tropes, influences, landscapes, bestiary, anti-myths, the Unreal, ruins, cults, consciousness etc. Ligotti works counter to all the received elements of Gothic, horror, weird, uncanny, and fantastic tropes creating a counter-world in which no one is at home in the universe. Ligotti, unlike Lovecraft, is more democratic and secular, tending toward the Left in ideology and politics even as he suggests an indifference and apathy to all politics and outer forms of life. His agoraphobia, anhedonic, and other personal idiosyncrasies keeps the world and people at bay for the most part. His main contact and the contributing factor to our knowledge of his life and inner workings is from the voluminous interviews he’s given over the years since youth. As I read the two writers against each other I sense a Lucretian swerve in Ligotti’s direction as he offers us the early Lovecraftian worldview against the latter Cthulhu mythos. For Ligotti it is Lovecraft’s despair, nihilism, and cosmic pessimism that matter not the influences of Idealism and Lord Dunsany’s aesthetics and myths. I think even Lovecraft knew he’d taken a wrong turn later in life and saw this as a failure of imaginative need.  I say this not to disparage that master but to show how Ligotti took a different turn and inhabits another extreme realm of despair, nihilism, and the weird than his master, Lovecraft.

Lovecraft: Failure and the Idealist Quest – A Man Without Hope

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“It is good to be a cynic — it is better to be a contented cat — and it is best not to exist at all.”
― H.P. Lovecraft

Rereading Maurice Levy’s study of Lovecraft we come to know Lovecraft’s hatred of himself and others; his hatred of the present and love of fantastic other worlds of the great Outside, of his obsessive dependency on Grandfather, Mother, and Aunts for survival; of his bigotry, racism, and fascism: love of Hitler and Nordic history and myth considering himself a modern Viking – the ‘good Aryan’; his ‘contemptus mundi’ (contempt of life and world) and his hatred of the present for a mythical past; his love of Poe and Dunsany and above all with their distain of this present system of the world, its politics of ruins and horrors – and, yet, a love for the hint of cosmic mysteries just beyond the pale of appearances – his Idealist need for cosmic transcendence and mystery from elsewhere. His failure at sex and marriage. His nervous and neurotic apprehension of life that would bleed into his racism and monstrous abhorrence of everything that was not English to the point he considered the American Revolution a disgrace siding with the English in his vision of being at one as a ‘Tory, Czarist, Junker, patrician, Fascist, oligarchist, nationalist, and militarist’. The man was obsessed by the disgust and ruination of existence, the stain of life by the human species. His hatred of religion and especially of the two-thousand-year degradation of monotheistic incursions of Jewish, Christian, and Islam. The more we know of the man we wonder how his works and writings survive among us?

The nightmares that came from his mind seem to be our own, speak of our own deepest fears, hatreds, disgusts, and decadent espousals. His obsessions are ours, pervading every aspect of our political, religious, and scientific worlds of present-day America and the World at large. Like some marauder of the mind, his fantasy of an American Imperium arises now in our Military-Industrial Complex of never-ending arms and wars and conquest for control of the planetary resources. We’re just as divisive and horrific now – even more so, than in his day. We amble through existence like zombies and sleepwalkers, our lives filled with violence and murderous intent. Our capitalist civilization devouring the ancient earth’s resources as if it would never end, depleted at last in a realm of absolute waste and ruin – a desert where only the scorpions and jackals remain in the dark night of our dead world. And, even, now we dream of capitalist expansion into the solar system and galactic quadrants in a never-ending grab for more life, more riches; more and more and more… this obsession with accumulation, assimilation, and hording of all things.

In the end Lovecraft’s failures and decadent dreams of the great outside are the impossible lures of our own degenerate lives’ writ large. We are the heirs of Lovecraft’s dark nightmares and its victims living it as he wrote it. We will end it in that abyss of ruination that is coming either by our own hatred of each other, or by the nihil of time and space and the inevitability of all things that will die into nothingness. His comics pessimism and nihilism of life, art, and existence are at heart ours. We seek to deny it through our anchoring in the present world: our distractions, our isolations, and our sublime art of beauty and terror. But he knew it was all an ironic game, that in the end even art would not save us from the wastelands we’ve created in our lives and world. Nothing will. Nothing can. Nothingness is that great unnamable thing that surrounds us on all sides and will consume us in our greatest nightmare to come… the Great Nihil of Cthulhu’s Reign.

Affect and Mood: A Counter-Philosophy of Shadows

By custom and habit, we have grown accustomed to our human world – anthropomorphic and adapted to our wants and needs; controllable, known, made at-hand and for-us through our scientific know-how. But what if this were all an illusion? What if the human world we have been so carefully taught to accept and believe in for our safety and comfort was not only a beautiful lie, but a monstrous evasion of what is? What if we lived in a realm both inhospitable to humans as well as intentionally hostile to our kind? That is the core of the weird tale, that our world is not the “world”, but a fictional one that we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into and asleep, and that outside our delusional consciousness and through our moods, feelings, and emotions we feel and sense another truth more unsettling that reveals a world of shadows and pessimal counters to our normality. Some of us awaken to the horror of this other more dangerous world surrounding us, one inhabited by anomalous and destabilizing forces both inhuman and monstrous.

Working on my book on Thomas Ligotti one of the central aspects of all Weird Tales is their reliance on atmosphere and affective relations both strange, impossible, weird, and apocalyptic. The power of mood to break our habitual belief systems in reality, politics, propaganda, and conceptual systems that bolsters our worldviews is at the core of the weird. Pessimism, skepticism, cynicism, irony, satire; the fantastic, irreal, unreal, delusion, delirium etc. all tend toward breaks in our minds, turns against the reality of our staid and boring habits of comfort and safety. And out of this complacent and optimistic reliance on the cultural fictions that sustain our beliefs in the ‘consensual hallucination’ (Gibson) of a shared world we are suddenly surprised by a monstrous and uncanny reality that works against our expectations producing “anxious expectations”. Those like Ligotti have suffered this dark enlightenment into the weird and uncanny and been left shattered by it spending their lives seeking to fend off or describe its altering life-storm in fiction or philosophy; others master it – such as ancient shamanic (spirit-flight) and vodoun (dance-possession/performance) cultures and learn to explore alternative maps of reality bringing back views onto our cosmic system that make us aware of a wider circle of being and thinking than our contemporary cultural blinkers allow. My whole life has been a part of this search process since my own radical immersion in both psychosis, drugs, and other strange and disquieting events transpiring during my youth and later periods. My journey is to know and understand these physical-mental aspects that entrap us and ways to free us from our deluded Human Security Regimes (Land). It all started for me with Willam Blake’s poetic madness, Rimbaud’s “derangement of the senses”, Artaud’s myriad self-investitures in psycho-journeys… long ago.

The various tropes of literature and rhetoric that help us turn our linguistic heritage toward a deep dive into mood and affective relations freeing us from the conceptual traps that lock us in a prison house of enculturation has been a main goal in my philosophical pursuits. To me the pursuit of Reason was always a trap, a false move from the Enlightenment (so-called) to now. One can see where this pursuit has led us, and yet so many philosophers have bolstered its dark designs as the only way to truth and knowledge as if the Will and Affect were delusionary and false. We are and have always been Irrational beings who have lived from our inhuman core but have been allowed to be swayed by a mad conceptuality that sought to purify humans of their emotions, feelings, and irrational core for a world of pure conceptual relations based on Intelligence and Reason. I know I go against most of contemporary thinking and thinkers on this matter.

A Nietzschean counter-philosophy of the times …

John Hollander a master poet and scholar once suggested in his lectures on shadows:

“Except in darkness, we are bound to our shadows, and our thoughts continue to be involved with them. These shadows grow and contract and seem variously to partake of the surface on which they are cast, yet each is as personal to us as our names, and although we may change our names, we cannot take another shadow.”

In many ways a counter-philosophy is a Philosophy of Shadows or a Shadow Philosophy that counters the “Light of Reason” with the “Darkness of Unreason and Madness” to show forth that which is hidden in the shadows of conceptuality, left out and forgotten. The world around us is not what we think it is, never was. From the times of Plato onwards there has been a destabilization of reality, a fear of its darkening contours that leave us unsettled and groundless. Plato himself would see the world of the senses and appearances as one of delusion and illusion, dividing the world into two worlds: the one, our apparent world of sensual delights where our senses enjoy and animate life with affective relations; and another, more real than real world of Ideas, Forms, etc. where the Good, Truth, and Beauty exist inviolate.*  Since the time of Plato philosophers and the pursuit of knowledge (what would become the sciences) have sought above all to give us a true picture and image of the world. Sought to purify our misguided and sense-baring delusions of affective and emotive relations and reliance on the senses and experience. Rather we have sought to rely more and more on abstract mathematical and scientific reasoning to control and verify our objective vision of reality and the Real.

Philosophy and the Sciences are in a quandary at the moment, seeking to puzzle their way through so much anomalous data about our world and the cosmos. Their approach is based on induction and deduction, tried and true methods that have carried the pursuit of knowledge for millennia. Yet, things are happening that cannot be refined by the light of Reason and Intelligence. Anomalies exist that cannot be reduced to some scheme of conceptual thought and its abstractions. Even if philosophers and scientists continue to believe that if we had better knowledge, better tools, etc. we could gain access to a larger view onto ourselves and the cosmos. Always they push it off into a more distant future when we will know more, uncover more details, refine our thoughts, our tools and finally know the truth. No. It will not come that way.  The darkness holds a key, the shadows that we filter out and forget knowing things we cannot see by the light of Reason and Intelligence. Something is pushing up from what we’ve denied, a thought from the shadowlands of thought itself. In the conceptual shadows we will find the clues…  in the affective regions of our sensual experience that is left out we will know things of the unknown and unknowing that is all around us.

Kant divided the world – after Plato, into the phenomenal world of our appearances (the known), and the noumenal world of the unknown and unknowable. He closed philosophy off from speculating on the noumenal, and for two hundred years philosophers refined and purified our conceptuality of the errors of two thousand years of thought (the so-called ‘Linguistic Turn”). But now a new set of philosophers have sought to go beyond this ‘circle of thought’ we seem stuck in as in a Venus flytrap. I began studying these new thinkers a decade or so back. Saw some interesting thoughts being displayed, toyed with, based on speculative philosophies of materialism and realism. What have they brought forward? I think it’s time for me to go back over this territory, refresh myself and readers of my blog about this world of thought. Did it produce anything new? Did it provide a way forward? Or did it just end in futility? Hopefully I’ll live long enough to see to this and to the thoughts on affect, mood, and shadow philosophy I see underpinning an aspect left out of our contemporary thinking.

In many ways the counter-philosophy I seek works against both a two-world theory that separates the known from the unknown, and that situates itself with the liminal in-between where the anomalous worlds that are destabilized and show the patterns of “discognition” that Steven Shapiro so adeptly elaborates in his work by that name:

 “When certain philosophers elevate human “sapience” over mere animal “sentience”, they are indulging in dubious feats of self-congratulation. For in fact, there is far more of an evolutionary continuity than a sharp distinction between the way that my dog thinks, and the way that I think. I have many unique qualities of mind that he can never hope to possess; but the inverse of this is also true. Understanding and intelligence (which Robert Brandom lists as the characteristics of sapience) are in fact deeply rooted in such features of sentience as sensory awareness, reality testing, irritability, and arousal.”

—Shaviro, Steven. Discognition (pp. 9-10). Watkins Media.

Shaviro describes the notion of “nonintentional sentience”: “Beneath intentionality, or before thought is about anything, there is a thinking process – an it thinks – that is nontransitive, without an object. When it thinks, it feels something; but it does not have any conception or representation of what it is that it feels.” (p. 18) This notion of “feels something” is central to counter-philosophy, a thought-form that feels its way into things rather than abstractly distancing itself from them and representing it in concepts and mathematical thought. He goes on (and I quote at length):

“… in Kantian terms, that “feeling” is a matter for aesthetics, rather than for the empirical understanding. Despite his strictures against “intuitions without concepts” in the First Critique, Kant nonetheless writes in the Third Critique of “aesthetic ideas”, which he defines as “inner intuitions” that are so powerful that “no concept can be fully adequate to them”. In phenomenological terms, we may say that feeling comes before, and falls short of, any sort of intentionality, or even of Merleau-Ponty’s reversibility. In cognitivist terms, finally, feeling has something to do with what Thomas Metzinger calls Raffman qualia. A sensation of this sort is “available for attention and online motor control, but it is not available for cognition… it evades cognitive access in principle. It is nonconceptual content”. (p. 18)

It’s this nonintentional sentience, the feeling into things, the form of noncognitive access to the world that comes by way of mood, feeling, and emotive forms that is at the core of this counter-philosophy I hope one day to write more on. A nonconceptual thought that works within the pessimal tradition of voluntarist non-cognitive affect, mood, feeling, and emotion.

*(I want go into the debates over Plato on two worlds theory, I’ll leave that to the nuances of scholars.)

The Weird Tale: Unanchoring our moorings in delusion…

The Weird Tale: Unanchoring our moorings in delusion…

“Whereas pessimism’s attempts at unanchoring run up against the inherent limits of conceptual and rational argumentation, weird fiction circumvents rational critique and counterarguments by using a form of signification that relies on imagery and association. Rhetorically speaking, weird fiction employs tropes that, rather than buttressing stable frameworks of meaning and interpretation, work toward the unanchoring of basic cultural ideas and institutions. As figural devices, such tropes have an impact on the relationship between consciousness and a world of experience; at the same time, however, they embody a self-devouring or self-destructing tendency of unanchoring a community’s traditional, taken-for-granted methods for making sense of a changing complex of appearances. If, as Kenneth Burke argues, an orientation consists of “a bundle of judgments as to how things were, how they are, and how they may be,” then the tropological maneuvers encountered in weird fiction can be regarded as attempts at undermining the basis of such sense-making bundles. Unlike the style of philosophical pessimism, which forwards rational arguments for viewing the world as fundamentally wrong and life as essentially futile, weird fiction adopts a style of laying bare and of creating the sense of the uncanny through the use of unanchoring tropes, conceived both as figurative expressions or, more broadly, as recurrent themes or motifs. This usage, we argue, consists of pointing up the unreliability of the various conceptual categories necessarily involved in interpreting the empirical-phenomenal world—of drawing attention to the inadequacy of what Jacques Rancière refers to as “partitions of the sensible world” or distributions of patterns of perceptual experience. In opposition to the rounded systems of basic cultural ideas and institutions (e.g., morality, religion, the State, etc.)—all of which enable, to some degree, the formation and maintenance of common-sense understandings of shared reality—weird fiction’s strategy of figural, uncanny disturbance aims at revealing the world, even life itself, as essentially unknowable, chaotic, and terrifying.”1

  1. Packer, Joseph; Stoneman, Ethan. A Feeling of Wrongness (Pessimistic Rhetoric on the Fringes of Popular Culture) (pp. 50-51). Penn State University Press.

Rivaling the Gods…

If we thus wanted to delay “species reconstruction” until we are in possession of “total” knowledge about this world, we would have to wait all eternity.

—Stanislaw Lem., Summa Technologiae [1964, 2013]

The modern sub-division and dualism of science vs. poesies is a Platonic throwback and fear of life outside the closed halls of the Idea and Reason. We need the irrational Outside which is the central feature of all aesthetic notions of life, beauty, and monstrousness. For existence will not be closed down in the reductions of thought and concept but must for now and always remain open to metaphor and the extreme affective regions of life itself. The so-called New Rationalism undergirding Brassier, Negarestani and others is this return to Idealism that would close off the irrational Outside of imagination and metaphor, poesies and poetic statement for the afterworld of Intelligence, Idea, and Mind devoid of flesh and biological affective relations. They would rather dispose of the necessity of the cunning intelligence of the body for the abstract purity of Intelligence devoid of affect based on mathematical precision and clarity. Against that I bring back the philosophy of affect and Will. If we erase the affective relations of the human mind from time we will end in a world of psychopathy and cruelty.

J.G. Ballard was a harbinger of where that world would lead… others have as well. The affectless world of psychopaths and sociopaths would be the norm or hypernormative world of the new machinic Intelligences. The transhumanist agenda seeks this transcendent vision of becoming machine, merging with the bloodless and lifeless being of algorithmic gods. Stanislaw Lem in his Summa Technologiae asked “Will interventions into the human genotype (and this is just a random example) not eliminate some potentially valuable genotypic traits that we know nothing about, together with harmful ones?” We act as if we know what we want, as if we know what we’re doing, when in the end we tinker with life as if it were a children’s toy tinker-toy. It’s not. Plenty of Sci-Fi parables offer the truth of the monstrosities we will probably develop over the decades and centuries ahead. No doubt that my words will mean nothing to those who will storm ahead inviting the ancient hubris of the Greeks ‘ate’ into their plans as the daemons of science forge for us a punishment for daring to rival the powers of life itself.

  1. Stanislaw Lem. Summa Technologiae [1964, 2013] (Kindle Locations 7928-7929). University of Minnesota Press

Ate and the Daemon: The Greeks Psychology of Life

Rereading E.R. Dodds The Greeks and the Irrational again after a few years… one of the best studies of the inner life of the mind as it touches base with body and psyche – the deamonic forces that drives us (Freud’s ‘das Trieb: Trieb connotes urge, impulse, impetus, and desire—what in motivational psychology is called drive”). All these various metaphors underlying the notion of the irrational moods we fall into, that drive us to do things against our own better interest, etc., Schopenhauer’s urge to life, the idiot god – the Will-to-live, Nietzsche’s Will-to-power or mastery, the excess that drives us like a puppet even as we regret ever after our immersion in its wake… the craven madness at the core of our loves and hates.

As Dodds traces this he approaches it through Homer’s epic in which the Greek concept or metaphor of ‘ate’ is central:

“Let us start from that experience of divine temptation or infatuation (atē) which led Agamemnon to compensate himself for the loss of his own mistress by robbing Achilles or his. “Not I,” he declared afterwards, “not I was the cause of this act, but Zeus and my portion and the Erinys who walks in darkness: they it was who in the assembly put wild ate in my understanding, on that day when I arbitrarily took Achilles’ prize from him. So what could I do? Deity will always have its way.” By impatient modern readers these words of Agamemnon’s have sometimes been dismissed as a weak excuse or evasion of responsibility. But not, I think, by those who read carefully. An evasion of responsibility in the juridical sense the words certainly are not; for at the end of his speech Agamemnon offers compensation precisely on this ground—”But since I was blinded by ate and Zeus took away my understanding, I am willing to make my peace and give abundant compensation.” Had he acted of his own volition, he could not so easily admit himself in the wrong; as it is, he will pay for his acts.”1

One of the interludes in my book on Ligotti will deal with the history of the drives (the daemon, mood, ate, urge, etc.) and their relevance to horror and the weird. I think we’ve all been driven to do things against our own better interests at one time or another. This impulsive, mad behavior is one of those aspects of the alien in us, that show forth our own inhuman being at its most central, tearing down the facade of Reason and Culture and revealing the insanity below the threshold of our physical and mental lives. We are puppets on the strings of irrational forces we seek to assuage and cover over with all our civilizational rhetoric, therapies, and delusions. At heart we are an alien monstrosity which will not accept its own insanity in the face of these dark forces that drive us, instead we delude ourselves with mythologies of Reason to hide and distract ourselves from this truth.

As Dodds puts it: “Always, or practically always, ate is a state of mind—a temporary clouding or bewildering of the normal consciousness. It is, in fact, a partial and temporary insanity; and, like all insanity, it is ascribed, not to physiological or psychological causes, but to an external “daemonic” agency.” This notion that rather than some internal psychic aspect that it was marked by the noumenal and external ‘dark powers’ of the cosmos is pertinent. Menos is another term that sheds light on ate:” When a man feels menos in his chest, or “thrusting up pungently into his nostrils,” he is conscious of a mysterious access of energy; the life in him is strong, and he is filled with a new confidence and eagerness.” This notion of menos leads to an influx of physical energy and strength in which a person is able to perform feats of Herculean effort with ease caught in the grip of this daemonic energy or fire. Ate as Dodds works through all the etymological associations in the Greek poets from Homer to the Tragedians speaks of this insatiable and irrational driveness which is both alien to the normal mode of rational being and yet is essentially a part of that alien core of our being. For Agamenon as Dodds senses there is this sense that his actions are those of a daemon, and “the action of the daemon is not moralized in any way: he seems to be simply an evil spirit, tempting man to his damnation”.

As such these alien forces from the cosmic regions beyond the balance and harmony that the Greeks so cherished as central to their conception of Heimarmene as the natura
order of the Whole by which from eternity one thing follows another, a sense of destiny or fate central to their notions of Reason or Logos that orders all things. To be tempted to step beyond the order of things, to set in motions forces that would upset one’s destiny, overturn one’s fate was to be tempted by ones “alastor or evil daemon”. This would lead to cosmic justice and punishment for hubris and overstepping one’s allotted place in the scheme of things.

Dodds insists that by the time of Aeschylus he did not have to revive the world of the daemons: it is the world into which he was born. In the age that lies between the Odyssey and the Oresteia, “the daemons seem to draw closer: they grow more persistent, more insidious, more sinister”. The Greeks took the daemonic seriously and as Dodds suggests “we should not dismiss this as “personification”: behind it lies the old Homeric feeling that these things are not truly part of the self, since they are not within man’s conscious control; they are endowed with a life and energy of their own, and so can force a man, as it were from the outside, into conduct foreign to him”.

Whereas from Homer to the Tragedians the daemons were external forces of irrationality and darkness for Plato they’d become tutelary powers of the mind itself (Dodds): “Plato picked up and completely transformed the idea, as he did with so many elements of popular belief: the daemon becomes a sort of lofty spirit-guide, or Freudian Super-ego, who in the Timaeus is identified with the element of pure reason in man. In that glorified dress, made morally and philosophically respectable, he enjoyed a renewed lease of life in the pages of Stoics and Neoplatonists, and even of mediaeval Christian writers.”

This inversion of the dark side of human nature into its opposite with the daemons transformed from furies and sinister forces driving humans by ate into divine madness for their hubris and excess seems to have arisen as philosophers began revising the irrational and explaining it away as part of their effort to internalize and tame the evil by way of conceptuality and Reason. Dodds puts this in the necessary relation between the older “guilt-culture” of the Homeric Greeks, and the “shame-culture” of Plato’s era as democracy and the slow decay of the aristocratic world fractured and war brought an end to that heritage. Dodds himself will end his survey of the early Greeks “guilt-culture” built on modes of horror, dread, and mystery which would give way to the Platonic worldview of light, harmony, and enlightenment, saying, lest “we forget that out of this archaic guilt-culture there arose some of the profoundest tragic poetry that man has produced. It was above all Sophocles, the last great exponent of the archaic world-view, who expressed the full tragic significance of the old religious themes in their unsoftened, unmoralised forms—the over whelming sense of human helplessness in face of the divine mystery, and of the ate that waits on all human achievement—and who made these thoughts part of the cultural inheritance of Western Man.”


  1. Dodds, Eric R.. The Greeks and the Irrational (Sather Classical Lectures) . University of California Press.

A Zapffean Reading of Thomas Ligotti

In their critical work ‘A Feeling of Wrongness’ Packer and Stoneman provide a reading of Ligotti’s pessimism as a form of didactic persuasion amplifying many of the themes that culminate in his Conspiracy Against the Human Race:

“Building on Ligotti’s insight, this chapter maintains that weird fiction serves as something of a pessimistic Trojan horse: while promising a simple scary tale, it works to invoke in the reader a sense of uncanny fear and in ways that call into question the very nature of reality. But rather than presenting well-reasoned arguments in support of explicit pessimistic claims, weird fiction manifests or enacts pessimism, aesthetically, through the clever deployment of a range of stylistic devices and rhetorical maneuvers. What is more, by invoking the sense of the uncanny, such rhetorical tactics work to undermine the common psychological defenses of anchoring, thereby disrupting our ability to comprehend the world in terms of a coherent narrative. In so doing, they transform what would otherwise remain merely strange into an effective hostility against the world, against life, and against meaning.

Specifically, our analysis demonstrates the following: (1) that weird fiction, by masquerading as a source of pleasant distraction, attracts an audience that might not be inclined to pick up a work by a Schopenhauer or a Zapffe; (2) that, by subtly blurring the line between the natural and the supernatural, weird fiction weakens readers’ inclination to isolate and, hence, neutralize the pessimistic undertones of any given weird tale; (3) that weird fiction’s monstrous aberrations destabilize the conceptual-ontological categories of space and time, knowing, and performing, all of which serve to anchor human beings’ feelings of existential security, both in the world and in their own skin; and (4) that the very structure of weird fiction inhibits audiences from sublimating the uncannily horrific into a life-affirming experience.”1

  1. Packer, Joseph; Stoneman, Ethan. A Feeling of Wrongness (Pessimistic Rhetoric on the Fringes of Popular Culture) (pp. 35-36). Penn State University Press.

In many ways their approach is the one I’m taking, using the work of Zapffe and Ligotti’s commentary on that philosopher (“Conspiracy”) to read his weird tales thematically against the optimistic formalism of most bland and obvious critical takes. Offering a Zapffean reading that utilizes the basic motif of his quadratic defenses against a humanistic reading to produce a more post-human and post-subjectivistic speculative weird.

Prelude to Abjection: Thomas Ligotti and Peter Wessel Zapffe

Man is a tragic animal. Not because of his smallness, but because he is too well endowed. Man has longings and spiritual demands that reality cannot fulfill. We have expectations of a just and moral world. Man requires meaning in a meaningless world.
—Peter Wessel Zapffe

“…the evolution of consciousness—parent of all horrors.”
—Thomas Ligotti

As I approached the life and art of Thomas Ligotti, I began seeing within the dark contours of his vision a philosophy and aesthetics of horror that went to root of our human condition. The more I pondered his tales and philosophy I realized that there is a central thematic underlying his vision, one which he illustrates through a multifarious set of motifs, parables, fables, weird tales, interviews, and speculative philosophy. The central figures behind his work are Poe, Lovecraft, and Peter Wessel Zapffe a Norwegian naturalist philosopher whose anti-metaphysical vision and existential nihilism would ultimately help Ligotti resolve some if not all the paradoxes in his life and thought.

Peter Wessel Zapffe (December 18, 1899 – October 12, 1990) was a Norwegian metaphysician, author, artist, lawyer and mountaineer. His pessimistic and fatalistic view of the human condition led him to ponder Arthur Schopenhauer’s worldview but turn it toward a more anti-metaphysical vision at once tragic and antinatalist. In his essay “The Last Messiah” (Norwegian: Den sidste Messias, 1933) – a shorter version of his best-known and untranslated work, the philosophical treatise “On the Tragic” (Om det tragiske, 1941) – he would advocate and develop a pathway toward limiting consciousness in humans. Consciousness is for both Ligotti and Zappfe the great error of humankind. As Ligotti himself says of his philosophical work The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror:

“…the present “contrivance of horror” has been anchored in the thesis of a philosopher who had disquieting thoughts about what it is like to be a member of the human race. But too much should not be telegraphed in this prelude to abjection. For the time being, it need only be said that the philosopher in question made much of human existence as a tragedy that need not have been were it not for the intervention in our lives of a single, calamitous event: the evolution of consciousness—parent of all horrors. He also portrayed humanity as a species of contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens their plight, which is that of mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox—a real-life paradox and not a bungled epigram.”1

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Lovecraft’s Disgust and Horror: A Schopenhauerian Reading

Johnathan Newell’s A Century of Weird Fiction, 1832-1937: Disgust, Metaphysics and the Aesthetics of Cosmic Horror gives us a Schopenhauerian reading of Lovecraft as he comes to grips with the dark underpinnings of that master’s metaphysical worldview situated in a metaphysics of disgust and horror. Hooking it to Meillassoux’s ‘hyperchaos’ and Eugene Thacker’s reading of Schopenhauer’s blind idiot god – the Will-to-live we come to know what Ligotti would term the ‘dark power’ behind the mask of appearances:

“When Meillassoux writes about the idea of the world-in-itself he invokes the idea of a ‘great outdoors’ or ‘absolute outside’ – a world that exists ‘whether we are thinking of it or not’ and which ‘thought could explore with the legitimate feeling of being on foreign territory – of being entirely elsewhere’. It is precisely such an ‘outside’ that preoccupies Schopenhauer when he writes of the will-in-itself, and while Schopenhauer inherits much from Kant, his ‘strange immanentism of noumena’, as Thacker puts it, links the will-to-live to the phenomenal world, since the latter is but the manifestation in space and time of the indifferent and inaccessible former. Lovecraft, like Schopenhauer, begins with the body, finding in the living organism a kernel or trace of the will-to-live; as his fiction develops, he increasingly seeks a grander setting and scope, turning from the cannibalised corpse to the cadaverous light of long-dead stars and the stygian blackness of outer space. But here, no less than in the half-eaten carcass, Lovecraft finds neither salvation nor transcendental purpose. Characters in Lovecraft’s fiction are often permitted a momentary glimpse of things beyond the veil that normally limits human perception, but the results lead to madness and disaster rather than enlightenment, and we are left with a picture of a cosmos horrifically indifferent to human flourishing, a repugnant reality.”1

  1. Newell, Jonathan. A Century of Weird Fiction, 1832-1937: Disgust, Metaphysics and the Aesthetics of Cosmic Horror (Horror Studies) (pp. 207-208). University of Wales Press. Kindle Edition.

Perception and the Real

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

If as I’ve come to believe and many in consciousness theory suggest that our evolutionary heritage in its development of consciousness limited its capacities to survival and propagation of the species, then much of the so-called ‘super-natural’ world of the noumenal is neither super nor beyond us. We are immersed in a cosmos that our brain and body for the most part filter out, exclude from access what we did not need as a species to survive in jungles, deserts, mountains, etc. This means for me that what is called the noumenal is itself a naturalized domain which impinges on us through other means than consciousness. In other words, it’s not some other world, some other dimension, some transcendent or transcendental beyond. It is all around us in this universe we live in. We are immersed in it like whales in the ocean, not knowing that the very substantive field within which we live, breath, and exist is greater than what we can perceive directly with our senses. Like the air in which we live we do not perceive it directly, and yet we have indirect access and knowledge of it in that its very hidden forces of storm and sky and atmospheric powers pervade every aspect of our world. Kant and others said as much, and yet many persisted in supernaturalist perspectives on this otherness we are immersed in. It is our limitations as sense bearing beings that have been through those evolutionary forces and pressures closed off from most of the natural universe because of our very consciousness. As R. Scott Bakker would put it: we are blind to the world and ourselves.

As Bakker informs us over and over, we’re we “generally don’t possess the information we think we do!” Consciousness is just the tip of a great iceberg or abyss that we are completely unaware of. Ok I’ll bite, and realize we filter out almost 99% (of course we have no quantifiable measuring stick for this, scientific or otherwise) of the data below our conscious mind. We seem to thrive quite nicely on our ignorance and let the physical brain do the rest in unconscious bliss. But one does not need a rocket scientist to tell us that if we had all that information at our disposal in one moment, we’d be unable to see the forest for the trees, we’d be lost in a maze of information. So, what we discover is that consciousness is a filter, a selective center of a specific set of processes that integrates the information that is processed below the stream in the brain and brings to awareness only the specific information needed to get on with the physical process of life itself. Is this so hard to accept? Surely not! We all understand that we need only what will help us get on with our work. The crux is not in this, we only become aware of it as a problem when we are unable to retrieve the information needed, when the brain for medical or other reasons does not work, and in fact breaks down and is no longer able to integrate the information: then we call for either the medical or psychological teams to investigate.

Of course, Bakker is not unaware of this quagmire:

..at some point in our recent evolutionary past, perhaps coeval with the development of language, the human brain became more and more recursive, which is to say, more and more able to factor its own processes into its environmental interventions. Many different evolutionary fables may be told here, but the important thing (to stipulate at the very least) is that some twist of recursive information integration, by degrees or by leaps, led to human consciousness. Somehow, the brain developed the capacity to ‘see itself,’ more or less.

This is where my own questions start? Why? What event or strange evolutionary process brought this about? Why us and no other animals as well? If recursivity is game, then why did evolution see this for just one specific species? There needs to be something more concrete that a ‘fable’ to explain this? Bakker again has a guess for this in the wings “the RS is an assemblage of ‘kluges,’ the slapdash result of haphazard mutations that produced some kind of reproductive benefit (Marcus, 2008).” But this is more surmise than actual answer. Another scientific fable to confuse more that enlighten us about the fabric of consciousness and its specific form in the human animal.

Yet, Bakker admits to my own point saying “We have good reason to suppose that the information that makes it to consciousness is every bit as strategic as it is fragmental. We may only ‘see’ an absurd fraction of what is going on, but we can nevertheless assume that it’s the fraction that matters most …” Exactly! For whatever reason the information we get is what we need to get own with our work whatever that might be, and yet sometimes we need more we need to invent other avenues of information that the brain lacks. What then? If the brain does not give us what we need what then? Could this lead us to ask other questions as to why we formed a specific type of consciousness that we did? Is brain science the last answer, the be all end all of a physical apprehension of these processes?

Sometimes I get the feeling that Bakker sees consciousness as a bit player, as a passive pony in a parade that is for the most part hidden in the recesses of recursive processes totally out of its control of sway. But is this true? Is consciousness just a passive receptacle, a sort of central void where all these recursive processes finally integrate and divulge their long labors in the unconscious brain? –

The problem lies in the dual, ‘open-closed’ structure of the RS. As a natural processor, the RS is an informatic crossroads, continuously accessing information from and feeding information to its greater neural environment. As a consciousness generator, however, the RS is an informatic island: only the information that is integrated finds its way to conscious experience. This means that the actual functions subserved by the RS within the greater brain —the way it finds itself ‘plugged in’— are no more accessible to consciousness than are the functions of the greater brain. And this suggests that consciousness likely suffers any number of profound and systematic misapprehensions.

His use of the metaphor ‘plugged in’ as if this dynamic core were machine plugged into the greater databank of the brain with consciousness totally blank and devoid of knowledge of this specific engine it is connected too. I sometimes feel like we are reading a new Lovecraft novel written by a scientist rather than a literary fantasist. And of course, Bakker is that as well (no pun intended).

So ultimately, we come to crux of Bakker’s theory, BBT of Blind Brain Theory: “Blind Brain Theory of the Appearance of Consciousness simply represents an attempt to think through this question of information and access in a principled way: to speculate on what our ‘conscious brain’ can and cannot see.”

So his actual theory is quite specific more toned down that it’s actual portrayal in post after post on his blog. A speculative theory on the brain’s blindness and insight into its own recursive processes. Simple and sweet, yet infinitely complex in its actual goals. What I like about Bakker’s work so far is that he moves us beyond the quagmires of present philosophical literature. Current philosophy in it anti-representationalism and representationalism literature Analytic or Continental deal with the extremes of Subject or Object. In Badiou and Zizek we start with the ‘Subject’, with others – such as the SR or OOO gang with ‘Objects’ and a multitude of those in between those two extremes measuring the world in processes. I simplify of course. But my drift is that those such as Zizek deal with the void of self, the abyss within around which consciousness like a satellite revolves in recursive formation; while others like Graham Harman consider objects as withdrawn and unknowable, as recursive dynamic systems that consciousness is totally blind too. Bakker on the other hand coming out of a naturalistic scientific philosophical background seeks scientific terminology of the newer brain sciences that try to move us beyond the use of Subject and Object altogether.

The next question that arises is ‘Time’, and specifically the now of our conscious mind, the first-person singular illusion he speaks of. As he says, “Any theory that fails to account for it fails to explain a central structural feature of consciousness as it is experienced. It certainly speaks to the difficulty of consciousness that it takes one of the most vexing problems in the history of philosophy as a component!” For RS theory time is nothing more that the integration point where the brain becomes conscious: this is the moment we experience as ‘now’. As Bakker would have it “Our experience of time is an achievement. Our experience of nowness, on the other hand, is a-structural side-effect. The same way our visual field is boundless and yet enclosed by an inability to see, our temporal field – this very moment now – is boundless and yet enclosed by an inability to time. This is what makes the now so perplexing, so difficult to grasp: it is what might be called an ‘occluded structural property of experience.’”

One could spend an essay or even a book on just what Time is and its relation to consciousness. Yet, it is one of the cornerstones of many philosophical debates. In the older Newtonian universe, the spatio-temporal dimensions were extensive and contained in a passive receptacle. In recent time Whitehead offered a more dynamic cross-sectional theory. As most scientists know experiments that might serve as bases for the construction of a physical theory or that might serve as tests for the confirmation of a physical theory are subject to the demand that standard conditions prevail or that suitable correction factors be introduced to ensure the consistency and the comparison of the experimental results. Otherwise, the experimental results would be one-time reports with no significance beyond isolated experiments, certainly not beyond the domain of the peculiar conditions that do prevail in the experiments. Also, were there not an assumption of standard conditions, it would follow those theories would be constructed and confirmed with reference only to peculiar conditions prevailing in particular areas where the experimentation takes place.

I’m not a Whitehead expert but feel there is an important part of his work to be still investigated. In Process and Reality, we discover that for him the physical and geometrical order of nature in were described in terms of “a hierarchy of societies” (PR 147-50, 506-08). Basically, a “society” is a grouping of events which manifest a common characteristic, the presence of that characteristic being guaranteed by the relations which the events sustain. The physical and geometrical order of nature is constituted by at least three societies, “the society of pure extension,” “the geometric society,” and “the electromagnetic society.” The point to be noted is the relationship of the geometrical society and the electromagnetic society. The latter is embedded, so to speak, in the former, so that a determination of the variable physical quantities which characterize the electromagnetic society is obtained against a background of relationships which comprise a uniform metric structure:

The whole theory of the physical field is the interweaving of the individual peculiarities of actual occasions upon the background of systematic geometry. (PR 507)

[T] hese diversities and identities are correlated according to a systematic law expressible in terms of the systematic measurements derived from the geometric nexus. (PR 150)

When I think of the recursive embedding of these differing hierarchies of societies, I’m reminded of how consciousness too is embedded in a recursive nexus of processes of which it is unaware, but that can be measured through a determination of certain variable physical quanta through an analogous background of relationships that comprise the uniform metric structure of the global brain itself. The now being nothing more than one of those ‘actual occasions’ upon which the background is woven. If one applied the exactitude of such geometrical precision to the brain science one might actually be able to systematically measure the peculiarities of consciousness itself in a scientific way. A testable theory!

Without going into every detail of Bakker’s essay, which I could not begin to do full justice too in one blog post. I will instead leave you with his parting words:

I sometimes fear that what we call ‘consciousness’ does not exist at all, that we ‘just are’ an integrative informatic process of a certain kind, possessing none of the characteristics we intuitively attribute to ourselves. Imagine all of your life amounting to nothing more than a series of distortions and illusions attending a recursive twist in some organism’s brain. For more than ten years I have been mulling ‘brain blindness,’ dreading it– even hating it. Threads of it appear in every novel I have written. And I still can’t quite bring myself to believe it.

This idea that we are machines, ‘integrative informatics processing’ machines at that, who have for so long assumed grandiose dribble about our personal worth and identity seems to be Bakker’s worst nightmare come true. What it seems to me is that he has discovered what is coming toward us, the future belongs to something else… something not quite human yet born of our own strange informatics processes: the cyborgs and artificial intelligences that we may one day give birth too may look back quaintly at this troubled angel of flesh and blood and wonder just what all the fuss was about anyway. Maybe the last magic show is not for us but for our electronic children. Wouldn’t that be a recursive twist for the comic book heroes of an age to come… or is that age upon us? Nightmares indeed…

Disgust and the Non-Human World of the Weird

Rereading an essay on Lovecraft’s Weird Fiction in Jonathan Newell’s A Century of Weird Fiction, 1832-1937: Disgust, Metaphysics and the Aesthetics of Cosmic Horror:

“As previously noted, philosophical investigations of weird fiction have often emphasised ideas at the expense of affect. This is true of speculative realist readings of horror generally and Lovecraft specifically, such as those offered by Graham Harman and Eugene Thacker. By neglecting affect, philosophers have missed a key component of Lovecraft’s aesthetic strategy for conveying what he calls ‘absolute reality’.”1

Most of the contemporary thought deals in Ideas and abstractions to a great degree. Idealism in its various manifestations has once again taken up a central place in our cultural readings, even if they espouse some form of realist vector. Affect, for me at least, is central to all ‘voluntarist’ traditions, especially those dealing with the pessimistic worldview. I think Newell is right in his development of an affective criticism based on Disgust. I’ve long felt this affective angle in thought has been left out except for a few well know works among others:

– Winfried Menninghaus: Disgust – The Theory and History of a Strong Sensation
– William Ian Miller. The Anatomy of Disgust
– Carolyn Korsmeyer. Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics

In Artistic modes “aesthetic disgust is a response that, no matter how unpleasant, can rivet attention to the point where one actually may be said to savor the feeling. In virtue of this savoring, this dwelling on the encounter, the emotion constitutes a singular comprehension of the value and significance of its objects.” (Korsmeyer) Most authors of gothic, terror, horror, and the weird deal in the affective aspects of our response to both the outer cosmic horror of existence, and to the inward turn to the horror of consciousness itself (Ligotti). Most horror deals with our ‘mortality’ and filters our dread of both the outer and inner forces that can lead us to madness and death. It’s more about the body than the mind in many respects, even if there are mental aspects to it we come to it aesthetically because it addresses our affective regions of fear, disgust, and terror. The weird revels in less rarefied forms of horror, derived not from the subject-affirming power of sublime fear but from the subject-dissolving power of disgust. The disgust precipitated by weird fiction emanates from a specific source – the non-human world, what philosophers have called the world-in-itself. This book interprets the weird as a speculative and affective negotiation of the real, in its most elemental sense.1

“Theorists, scientists and philosophers studying disgust have frequently drawn links between disgust and animality. William Miller cautions against reductive models of disgust, stressing its lack of rigidity or psychological fixity and noting that ‘we do not need the example of the animals to remind us that our bodies generate, fornicate, secrete, excrete, suppurate, die, and rot’. But even if disgust cannot ultimately be traced to a principle of animal origins, as Rozin hints, that does not mean that psychosocial conceptions of animality and its contrast or lack thereof with the human cannot precipitate especially strong disgust reactions.”

Newell in his book addresses the main Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century traditions of the weird: Poe, Machen, Blackwood, Hodgson, and Lovecraft. As he suggests,

“In Lovecraft’s fiction the universe itself is a malignant force – a force I describe in relation to Arthur Schopenhauer’s ontology, which identifies the world-in-itself with an all-encompassing, non-sentient ‘will-to-live’. Key to Lovecraft’s works, I contend, is the revelation that even the most seemingly dependable human conceptions, such as those of selfhood and self-knowledge, are unreliable: his weird stories are rife with protagonists who, with spasms of revulsion, apprehend not only the emptiness of their human values but the reality of their own alienage, of the strangeness and repulsiveness of the universe, and of a continuity between human beings and that nauseating cosmos. The only solace from this endless horror lies in a dissipation of the self, a loss of ego kin to madness which I relate to Schopenhauer’s formulation of the sublime and to the nullification of the will in the moment of its apprehension.” (p. 29)

Thomas Ligotti reflecting of this sad state of affairs tells us that “the supernatural is the metaphysical counterpart of insanity— the best possible vehicle for conveying the uncanny nightmare of a conscious mind marooned for a brief while in this haunted house of a world and being slowly driven mad by the ghastliness of it all. Not the man’s-inhumanity-to-man sort of thing, but a necessary derangement, a high order of weirdness and of desolation built in to the system in which we all function. Its emblem is the empty and inexplicable malignity that some of us see in the faces of dolls, manikins, puppets, and the like. The faces of so many effigies of our own shape, made by our own hands and minds, seem to be our way of telling ourselves that we know a secret that is too terrible to tell.”2

This notion that there is a “necessary derangement, a high order of weirdness and of desolation built in to the system,” a sense of malignity staring back at us from the dead world of “dolls, manikins, and puppets” affecting us through mood and atmosphere; an antagonistic grotesquerie of ever-abiding decay and malignancy, an incursion that seeps into us from the Outside-in. The notion that the malignant presence of a non-human otherness pervading all of existence, and most of all that this ‘dark power’ of cosmic despair and pessimism resides deep within our own psyche from which there is no escape, no redemption, no salvation. For Ligotti unlike many of his forbears it is not so much the metaphysical mystery behind creation, but rather the repulsive decrepitude and slow disintegration within the self-conscious entity we are that leads his characters – not towards some ultimate transfiguration and transcendence, but into the very heart of darkness where entropy, dissolution, and the desolation of reality reveals its repugnant face. Whereas for many of his forbears – Poe, Machen, Blackwood, and Lovecraft, etc. There is a sense that the weird offers a mystic recognition of a panpsychic oneness immanent throughout Nature, for Ligotti the universal contagion, contamination and corruption of things leads only to self-repugnance and ruination, hinting at a cosmic despair and pessimism deep within the Schopenhauerian framework of an imprisoning cosmos ruled by a malignant system become an ‘infernal paradise’.

  1. Newell, Jonathan. A Century of Weird Fiction, 1832-1937: Disgust, Metaphysics and the Aesthetics of Cosmic Horror (Horror Studies) (pp. 170-171). University of Wales Press.
  2. Bee, Robert. “Interview with Thomas Ligotti.” Thomas Ligotti Online. 11 April 2005 (originally published in 1999). http://www.ligotti.net/showthread.php?t =231.

The Human Security Machine: Kant’s Safety Net and the Escape Velocity of the ‘Dark Power of Will, Desire, and Intelligence’

“…the most important philosopher of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant, seems to have constructed his grand philosophical design, an architecture of concepts and arguments, to sustain and safeguard the reliability of the world, the certainty of knowledge, and the stability of experience. Kant’s philosophy protects the reasonable individual from his mad counterpart. His system guards modern man from thoughts of bottomless skepticism, experiences of unfathomable depths, and the seductions of animal sensuality.” 

—Wouter Kusters. A Philosophy of Madness

“Kant’s theory of the spontaneous inventiveness of genius presents the same figure as that of pathological animality, the violent, feral urge towards becoming-inferior that must be suppressed by practical philosophy: an impersonal, energetic unconscious emerges as the as-yet unacknowledged problematic of Occidental philosophy. Non-agentic, lacking the intentional intelligibility of Kant’s ‘will’, and with no regard for architectonic order, this transcendental unconscious is an insurgent field of forces for whose cunning – as Nietzsche would discover – even ‘reason’ itself is but an instrument. Anticipating the psychoanalytical conception of ‘desire’, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche consummate the collapse of intentional transparency into the opacity of a contingent and unknown ‘will’, a ‘purposiveness without purpose’ whose unmasterable irruptions are in fact dissipations – pathological by definition – of energy excessive to that required for (absorbed by) the ‘work’ of being human. At once underlying and overflowing the ‘torture chamber of organic specificity’, or ‘Human Security System’, this inundation creates ‘useless’ new labyrinths, unemployable new fictions that exceed any attempt to systematise knowledge or culture.”

“Capital is machinic (non-instrumental) globalization-miniaturization scaling dilation: an automatizing nihilist vortex, neutralizing all values through commensuration to digitized commerce, and driving a migration from despotic command to cyber-sensitive control: from status and meaning to money and information. Its function and formation are indissociable, comprising a teleonomy.”

“The future is closer than it used to be, closer than it was last week, but postmodernity remains an epoch of undead power: it’s all over yet it carries on. Monopod SF teleonomy superfreezes concentrated economic value at absolute zero inflation, ICE (‘intrusion countermeasure electronics’). Protecting its data against unauthorized access and entropic deterioration, as it tends toward its absolute immanent limit. V(amp)iro finance: parthenogenesis.”

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 . Urbanomic/Sequence Press.

Rereading Land in the light of Kusters Philosophy of Madness is enlightening. Land pushed into the psychotic matrix of all possibilities, a Rimbaud of anti-philosophical destruction and “derangement of the senses” leaping beyond the Human Security Regime and into the dark hinterlands of our futural horrors. Couched in Nineties Cyberpunk tropes his speculative mad Deleuzianism turns us toward the full-blown insanity of our Cultural Insanity. Most of our daylight culture is an architecture of Defense Systems against the incursion of the ‘Will’ – a deeply conservative stance against the freedom and power of unbound nihil (Brassier). That the civilizations of the world in Russia, China, India, Europe, and the U.S. are entering the last stages of this mad turn we now know. That they are doing everything possible to stave off the coming psychotic break from their Human Security Regimes is also apparent. One does not need to quote any social philosopher to know we are entering the labyrinths of an ‘absolute immanent limit’ to the World-System that has held humanity together for the past couple hundred years or so. Even during that era wars and destruction ran rampant as these systems began to shore up their deep myths both secular and religious against the ultimate abyss confronting them. 

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Psychosis and the Quest for Infinity: The Seduction of Madness

Psychosis itself can be subdivided into many different types, such as manic, depressive, and schizophrenic psychosis; drug-induced psychosis and psychosis brought on by trauma; chronic, acute, short-term, and mass psychosis; catatonic and paranoid psychosis, psychoses not otherwise specified,

it. It is not my purpose to improve psychiatric classifications by adducing empirical experiential facts. My reason for using the terms “madness” and “psychosis” is precisely to circumvent medical-psychiatric classifications and, in so doing, to clear the way for the admission of madness to a domain of philosophy, culture, and spirituality.

—Wouter Kusters. A Philosophy of Madness 

One reason Wouter Kusters Philosophy of Madness might appeal to those who have undergone one of the various forms of psychotic break is that he, too, underwent it and came back from that strange world with a message. I know my own break began early on in in puberty or adolescence when my parents got divorced. The shock of this threw my mind into a realm of darkness that would haunt me for years. Later my experience of Viet Nam after being drafted and sent to those jungles. It was a living nightmare I still keep at bay. Returning from it I began questioning everything about my beliefs, my up bringing, the world we live in. I began a long road into every counter-cultural praxis from Crowley’s magick, drugs (LSD, uppers-downers, mescaline, mushrooms, etc.), the various New Age crazes, etc. till I discovered philosophy and the pre-Socratics along with literature of horror, decadence, and surrealist underworlds. These spoke to me of my own horrors of existence, gave me an understanding of what drove me into psychosis to begin with. And through it I found my own way out by pushing myself through it rather than denial I pursued the deeper extremities of my psychosis into those impersonal zones of utter chaos and madness and came out the other side. Changed forever. As Kusters puts it,

“Essentially, every bend in the via mystica psychotica is a negation. Travelers on the mystical-mad path pass through the larger stations of detachment, demagination, delanguization, and dethinking and the less conspicuous way stations of dislocation, degradation, disillusionment, and deep emotion.”

In his book he explicates each of these various stations along the way of this “psychotic praxis” as he terms it. “”Being in a condition of madness means you are trying to resolve the most fundamental questions of existence but in an uncontrolled, wildly associative way. You want to know what it’s all about, what good and evil are, what is at the very heart of existence: you want to know the meaning of life and the cosmos. Such existential questions should not be denied but pondered, not stifled but lived through— even if you risk madness by pursuing them. After all, it is our fate to be confronted by unanswerable questions. You can try to evade them, you can anesthetize yourself or deny their relevance, but sooner or later they will catch up with you, only to haunt you the more you suppress them.” (Kusters)

There is a sense in his book that I, too, affirm: “my book contains more formulas for going mad than for avoiding madness. It is aimed more at “psychotizing” thinkers and philosophers than at re-educating or psycho-educating the mad. It is not about a specter of madness but about the seduction of madness.”. Indeed, the point of his book is not to cure us of madness so much as to guide us into its dark domain: “The wonderful thing about this book is that everything is turned on its head: the madman comes to occupy the chair of the philosopher— and the philosopher ends up in the isolation cell.” A dangerous book? Sure. Unless your prepared to face your darkest intent, uncover the deepest layers of your own existence, understand your own psychosis then walk away, go back to sleep in your normal day to day existence as one of the sleepers of time. As he suggests this book is not for the faint of heart: “The spark that usually ignites our thinking, that propels our existence, is like a wildfire in the mad, if not a bolt of lightning. But paradoxically enough, the ferocity of that inner blaze seems to extinguish life itself. In this book, we pull out all the stops in an effort to make contact with that fire, that luminosity, that warmth.”

The creature I am now is part of this ancient tribe of the mad and insane who learned one thing that old adage: “healer, heal thyself”. I never entered a mental institution, although I came close many times. I somehow lived through almost sixteen years from age thirteen till I was in my late twenties tittering on the edge of not coming back. Many never do. Strangely I cannot put the cause of this reversal into normality on any one thing except that I pushed everything into its extreme, left no stone unturned in my pursuit of an answer, my own quest for as Wouter terms it ‘infinity’. What I discovered for myself which ultimately brought me sanity is the simple nihil that there is no God, no absolute, no answer, no meaning. Existence just is. Either you accept this or you go mad seeking something that is and never will be there. It’s just that simple. The nub is getting to that point and accepting it. Most never do. Most continue to wallow in their unacceptance of a world that is meaningless and seek to fill it with their mad thoughts, dreams, and unfounded delusions.

To be free is to accept the nothingness of existence. The emptiness that will never be filled. There is nothing to be revealed in existence, only that it is. We are just a part of an inexplicable and unfounded thing: the universe. There is no answer to it. There is no question. We alone question it, question ourselves, and unable to find an answer to our own inexplicable presence in this nothingness seek an answer to that strange disquieting question: “Is Life worth living?” It’s a question that will never be resolved because it is already answered: we exist, we live. Asking “why” is what leads to all the sorrow and madness, because there is no one who can answer why we are here. No God. No Absolute of the philosophers. No jokester or Trickster behind the screen. No Wizard of Oz bumbling with the machinery of existence… nothing. Nada, Nada. Nada. But those who cannot accept this go mad, psychotic, insane. They want an answer for their misery, pain, and suffering. They curse the day they were born. They will not be assuaged. They blame this nothingness for being. They demand the impossible, and when it is not forthcoming they turn into that darkness from which there is no return, no respite. At the end is either the gateway to one’s freedom or an endless repetition of the insane loops of reversal into madness. As the ancients mythologized it: the “Gates of Dream” or the “Gates of Ivory” – the first leading to a life lived in freedom and ecstatic derangement absolved of all madness, attuned to the existence we all share in; the second, to an even darker realm of utter chaos and madness without end in a solipsistic void of self-imposed exile and isolation. So which gate will you walk through? 

The Human Security Machine: Kant’s Safety Net and the Escape Velocity of the ‘Dark Power of Will and Desire’

“…the most important philosopher of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant, seems to have constructed his grand philosophical design, an architecture of concepts and arguments, to sustain and safeguard the reliability of the world, the certainty of knowledge, and the stability of experience. Kant’s philosophy protects the reasonable individual from his mad counterpart. His system guards modern man from thoughts of bottomless skepticism, experiences of unfathomable depths, and the seductions of animal sensuality.”

—Wouter Kusters. A Philosophy of Madness

“Kant’s theory of the spontaneous inventiveness of genius presents the same figure as that of pathological animality, the violent, feral urge towards becoming-inferior that must be suppressed by practical philosophy: an impersonal, energetic unconscious emerges as the as-yet unacknowledged problematic of Occidental philosophy. Non-agentic, lacking the intentional intelligibility of Kant’s ‘will’, and with no regard for architectonic order, this transcendental unconscious is an insurgent field of forces for whose cunning – as Nietzsche would discover – even ‘reason’ itself is but an instrument. Anticipating the psychoanalytical conception of ‘desire’, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche consummate the collapse of intentional transparency into the opacity of a contingent and unknown ‘will’, a ‘purposiveness without purpose’ whose unmasterable irruptions are in fact dissipations – pathological by definition – of energy excessive to that required for (absorbed by) the ‘work’ of being human. At once underlying and overflowing the ‘torture chamber of organic specificity’, or ‘Human Security System’, this inundation creates ‘useless’ new labyrinths, unemployable new fictions that exceed any attempt to systematise knowledge or culture.”—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007  

Thomas Ligotti’s Aesthetics of Horror: Atmosphere, Mood, and Darkness

Continued from my Introduction to the Life and Work of Thomas Ligotti

“Atmosphere is created by anything that suggests an ominous state of affairs beyond what our senses perceive and our minds can fully comprehend. It is the signature motif that Schopenhauer made discernible in pessimism—that behind the scenes of life there is something pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world.”

The Aesthetics of Decay and Horror:
Abandoning the Future

Ligotti will quote a 1935 letter from Lovecraft to Catherine L. Moore on the aesthetics of horror and the weird tale:

“It must, if it is to be authentic art, form primarily the crystallization or symbolization of a definite human mood—not the attempted delineation of events, since the “events” involved are of course largely fictitious and impossible. These events should figure secondarily—atmosphere being first. All real art must somehow be connected with truth, and in the case of weird art the emphasis must fall upon the one factor representing truth—certainly not the events (!!!) but the mood of intense and fruitless human aspiration typified by the pretended overturning of cosmic laws and the pretended transcending of possible human experience.”

Commenting on this Ligotti reminds us Lovecraft in his weird tales exemplifies a “theoretics of atmosphere” which is the epitome of the weird motif, and yet Lovecraft himself always believed he’d failed to put down in writing what he most longed for to the end of his life: to “lay bare his consciousness in an artifact”.1 Ligotti remarks: Lovecraft showed the way to an analysis of this element in horror literature, and, by extension, to an evaluation of the genre as a whole. 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. Here lies the paradox of consuming horror as an escapist venture.” (TCATHR, ibid.)

If one tried to sum up Ligotti’s stance on aesthetics of the weird tale, the author’s statement from one of his interviews might serve best: “I’ve tried to articulate an aesthetic of decay in both small towns and cities. I equate decline and decrepitude with a kind of serenity, a tranquil abandonment of the illusions of the future.” (Ayad, Neddal) The late Mark Fisher in his memoir Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures once suggested “While 20th-century experimental culture was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion. It doesn’t feel like the future.” This sense that we are cut off in time, living in an empty world, a world prison where we are trapped like animals in a cage – doomed to repeat the gestures of our own living Death-in-life forever pervades Ligotti’s nightmarish tales. In conversation with Ayad Neddal he states: “I just finished reading an essay called “The Last Messiah” by the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe. It was written the 1930s and is the only work by Zapffe to be translated into English. In Zapffe’s view, human beings in general and human consciousness in particular are a mistake of nature and that the human species should stop reproducing as soon as possible in order to put an end to the tragic horror of our lives as conscious beings who spend all our time deceiving ourselves that life is worth living. This is a very concise statement of the sort of attitude that I find in authors who have most attracted my interest, including Schopenhauer, Lovecraft, E. M. Cioran, and certain Buddhist writers.”

Continue reading

H.P. Lovecraft’s Aesthetics of Horror: Atmosphere and Mood

“Atmosphere is created by anything that suggests an ominous state of affairs beyond what our senses perceive and our minds can fully comprehend. It is the signature motif that Schopenhauer made discernible in pessimism—that behind the scenes of life there is something pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world.”

Lovecraft, in a 1935 letter to Catherine L. Moore, wrote these remarks on the weird story:

“It must, if it is to be authentic art, form primarily the crystallization or symbolization of a definite human mood—not the attempted delineation of events, since the “events” involved are of course largely fictitious and impossible. These events should figure secondarily—atmosphere being first. All real art must somehow be connected with truth, and in the case of weird art the emphasis must fall upon the one factor representing truth—certainly not the events (!!!) but the mood of intense and fruitless human aspiration typified by the pretended overturning of cosmic laws and the pretended transcending of possible human experience.”

Thomas Ligotti commenting on this letter states,

“The works in which Lovecraft most successfully put his theoretics of atmosphere into practice are paradigms of weird (or supernatural horror) fiction. Yet he wrote himself off as a failure in his pursuit to get on paper what he had in his head and strove to the end of his life to do what no other horror writer had done before him nor will ever do: lay bare his consciousness in an artifact. By the stress he placed on atmosphere, Lovecraft showed the way to an analysis of this element in horror literature, and, by extension, to an evaluation of the genre as a whole. 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. Here lies the paradox of consuming horror as an escapist venture.”1

  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 184-185). Hippocampus Press.

Between Being and Nothingness I Am

“I don’t understand why we must do things in this world…”
― Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

I remember that Cioran would spend a lifetime studying the various mystics and saints, yogin’s and Buddhistic praxis not as a member of that tribe but rather to undermine its very way into nothingness and the abyss, etc. Wouter Kusters in his Philosophy of Madness describing the parallels between the world of Yogin’s and the Mad tells us,

“Yoga prescribes absolute solitude and chastity. … All of the yogic techniques invite to one and the same gesture— to do exactly the opposite of what human nature forces one to do. the sage and the ascetic that but one way remains for him to attain to freedom and bliss— withdrawal from the world, detachment from possessions and ambitions, radical isolation. … The methods to emancipate man from his human condition, to conquer absolute freedom, to realize the unconditioned are antisocial, or, indeed, antihuman.
In a certain sense this other “sacred” yoga world, like the mad world, is antihuman: an anti-, contra-, or mirror-image world in which left and right change places and all human values are turned on their head
—Wouter Kusters. A Philosophy of Madness

Back in the 70’s I studied like many of the era all the New Age crapology from the Magick of Crowley, Watts, Leary to the influx of various Beats gurus and India Krishna to Kundalini Yoga etc. After my strange and untimely demise in Viet Nam (oh yea, I came back bone dead!) I, like many, almost fell for all the crapology. But not quite! Instead, I thought it all out as just one more money-grubbing con-game just like the Bible-belt evangelists I grew up with. I walked away from that into a deeper study of Greek, Indic, Chinese, Indigenous, and African vodun etc. Then turned to philosophy, history, archaeology, the second-wave feminism (uncovering the ancient Goddess religions – Marija Gimbutas, Riane Eisler, Monic Soo, Barbara G. Walker etc. Then the literary movements from Baudelaire, Poe, the decadents, symbolists, Dada, Surrealism, Expressionism, Rimbaud-Maldoror-Artaud (‘derangement of the senses’), Conrad-Hardy (inklings of pessimism and fatalism), Henry Miller-Lawrence Durell (Visionary materialism, Gnostic modernism) … on and on … blah, blah, blah…

The whole gamut of Adler, Freud, Jung and their disciples and pop-psychology…
Kafka, J.G. Ballard, Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, Jorge Luis Borges…. the fabulists….

The gamut of weird tale writers from Poe, Lovecraft, to those after up to and including the contemporaries with Ligotti as a prime exemplary example…

Then the postmodern turn from Jameson, Deleuze, Derrida, Barthes, – the whole French influx into American thought by way of East coast intellectuals, etc.
Not to mention all the painters, musicians, rock-n-roll, jazz, Metal to Black Metal…
Let’s face it the litany of this could go on and on…

A life…. on the run in America. A life lived haphazardly wandering from job-to-job piecing together in an Autodidact’s fashion a vision of Self and World.

I came to the conclusion there is no “conclusion” to it all, this search for ‘nothing’ is just that an inner driveness – das trieb – toward nothing, nothing at all. We think we will find an answer to our strange plight as animals in a universe we do not know much less understand.

So, we pick up poetry or science, philosophy or religion to assuage our pain and the realization that there is no answer, no meaning, no end to our pursuit to know and understand ourselves and the world. So, we come to the Mind’s tethered end. – nothingness, the abyss, the nihil. We stop and look around us at the “ruins of reality” (Ligotti) and know for the first and last time there is no need for all this vanity, this pursuit, this endless never-ending quest. Existence just is (‘Thou art that’ – Tat Tvam Asi) etc. Whatever it ‘is’ will never be plundered by math or language, it can only be accepted. This is not fatalism, not resignation, but rather ‘freedom’ – the freedom from all the vein pursuits and busyness and the freedom to just be or not be – for we are both… creatures in transition – neither of being or nothingness, but in-between. No great enlightenment, just life. Simple. Strange. Disquieting.

Thomas Ligotti: An Introduction to his Life and Work

“This is the great lesson the depressive learns: Nothing in the world is inherently compelling. Whatever may be really “out there” cannot project itself as an affective experience. It is all a vacuous affair with only a chemical prestige.”

—Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

Thomas Ligotti (born July 9, 1953) emerged from a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. As he’d later quip: “I really have no special appreciation for the Detroit area that I’m aware of. As long as all the modern conveniences are available to me, I could live in a bubble city on the moon or in an underwater shopping mall.”1 He’d elaborate,

“I was born in Detroit, but I aside from my earliest childhood years I didn’t live there. I grew up in an upper-class suburb that bordered on Detroit. However, during high school in the 1960s I spent some time hanging out in dope houses in Detroit’s ghettos, and I worked in downtown Detroit for 23 years. I always enjoyed the spectacle of abandoned, decaying, and burned-out buildings and houses. … In many of my stories, I’ve tried to articulate an aesthetic of decay in both small towns and cities. I equate decline and decrepitude with a kind of serenity, a tranquil abandonment of the illusions of the future.”2

This sense of Decadence would come to dominate his writings and aesthetic vision. He told Neddal Ayyad in an interview that the “French already had a tradition of cynicism, morbidity, and pessimism from the eighteenth-century works of authors like Sade, Chamfort, and La Rochefoucauld. … This is the form of Decadence that has always interested me—the freedom, after thousands of years under the whip of uplifting religions and the tyrannical politics of the positive–which are nothing more than a means for crowd control—to speak to others who in their hearts could no longer lie to themselves about what they thought concerning the value, or rather lack of value, of human life.”3 Continue reading

Thomas Ligotti as Moral Anti-Realist

Thomas Ligotti affirmed Moral Anti-Realism

Thomas Ligotti in an interview on Lovecraft eZine says,

“I’m a moral anti-realist in principle, because few or none can hold the opinions I do and still maneuver in the world, and so morality as a sub-class of philosophy doesn’t interest me and philanthropic obsessions aren’t useful in explaining why someone might see things as I do. When I asked David Benatar why he based his arguments for antinatalism on moral philosophy rather than philosophical argumentation relating to Free Will, he replied that he wasn’t interested in Free Will as a genre of philosophy. Fair enough. It’s not as if you can choose what will interest you as a philosopher, or as anything else. Now, I hope what I’ve written above conveys a rough idea why I’m not interested in philosophy. There are others philosophers and philosophical writers who interest me besides the ones mentioned in The Conspiracy against the Human Race. If I hadn’t mentioned Galen Strawson, who has written some of my favorite books on Free Will and the self, I would cite him here. Actually, it’s possible that aside from philosophers mentioned in The Conspiracy against the Human Race, I’ve read every philosopher who could possibly interest me, with the exception of untranslated philosophers, or whom I would find useful in some way. Philosophers who don’t interest me are professionals like, I don’t know, Slavoj Zizek or philosophers associated with the indescribable Continental school plus any philosopher that would interest them going back a couple hundred years or so.”

Ligotti wasn’t much into Western philosophy per se, but rather more into the various writers of literature and drama who were pessimistically inclined. He read philosophers that interested him and helped him develop his own pessimism and views on Free-Will, etc. He was a thorough going naturalist – he terms his stance a moral anti-realism. Traditionally, to hold a realist position with respect to X is to hold that X exists objectively. On this view, moral anti-realism is the denial of the thesis that moral properties—or facts, objects, relations, events, etc. (whatever categories one is willing to countenance)—exist objectively. This could involve either (1) the denial that moral properties exist at all, or (2) the acceptance that they do exist but this existence is (in the relevant sense) non-objective. There are broadly two ways of endorsing (1): moral noncognitivism and moral error theory. Proponents of (2) may be variously thought of as moral non-objectivists, or idealists, or constructivists. Ligotti affirms 1 and not 2, believing all morals are a human construction and used solely to control and manipulate people.

As Richard Joyce explains it,

Moral anti-realism is the disjunction of three theses:

moral noncognivitism
moral error theory
moral non-objectivism

Moral noncognitivism holds that our moral judgments are not in the business of aiming at truth. So, for example, A.J. Ayer declared that when we say “Stealing money is wrong” we do not express a proposition that can be true or false, but rather it is as if we say “Stealing money!!” with the tone of voice indicating that a special feeling of disapproval is being expressed (Ayer [1936] 1971: 110). Note how the predicate “… is wrong” has disappeared in Ayer’s translation schema; thus the issues of whether the property of wrongness exists, and whether that existence is objective, also disappear.

The moral error theorist thinks that although our moral judgments aim at the truth, they systematically fail to secure it: the world simply doesn’t contain the relevant “stuff” to render our moral judgments true. For a more familiar analogy, compare what an atheist usually claims about religious judgments. On the face of it, religious discourse is cognitivist in nature: it would seem that when someone says “God exists” or “God loves you” they are usually asserting something that purports to be true. However, according to the atheist, the world isn’t furnished with the right kind of stuff (gods, afterlife, miracles, etc.) necessary to render these assertions true. The moral error theorist claims that when we say “Stealing is morally wrong” we are asserting that the act of stealing instantiates the property of moral wrongness, but in fact there is no such property, or at least nothing in the world instantiates it, and thus the utterance is untrue.

Non-objectivism (as it will be called here) allows that moral facts exist but holds that they are non-objective. The slogan version comes from Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” For a quick example of a non-objective fact, consider the different properties that a particular diamond might have. It is true that the diamond is made of carbon, and also true that the diamond is worth $1000, say. But the status of these facts seems different. That the diamond is carbon seems an objective fact: it doesn’t depend on what we think of the matter. (We could all be under the impression that it is not carbon, and all be wrong.) That the diamond is worth $1000, by contrast, seems to depend on us. If we all thought that it was worth more (or less), then it would be worth more (or less).

It is tempting to construe this idea of non-objectivity as “mind-dependence,” though this, as we will see below, is a tricky notion, since something may be mind-independent in one sense and mind-dependent in another. Cars, for example, are designed and constructed by creatures with minds, and yet in another sense cars are clearly concrete entities whose ongoing existence does not depend on our mental activity. Those who feel pessimistic that the notion of mind-dependence can be straightened out might prefer to characterize moral realism in a way that makes no reference to objectivity. There is also the concern that the objectivity clause threatens to render moral anti-realism trivially true, since there is little room for doubting that the moral status of actions usually (if not always) depends in some manner on mental phenomena, such as the intentions with which the action was performed or the episodes of pleasure and pain that ensue from it. Whether such pessimism is warranted is not something to be decided hastily. Perhaps the judicious course is to make a terminological distinction between minimal moral realism—which is the denial of noncognitivism and error theory—and robust moral realism—which in addition asserts the objectivity of moral facts. In what follows, however, “moral realism” will continue to be used to denote the traditional robust version.

If moral anti-realism is understood in this manner, then there are several things with which it is important not to confuse it.

First, moral anti-realism is not a form of moral skepticism. If we take moral skepticism to be the claim that there is no such thing as moral knowledge, and we take knowledge to be justified true belief, then there are three ways of being a moral skeptic: one can deny that moral judgments are beliefs, one can deny that moral judgments are ever true, or one can deny that moral judgments are ever justified. The noncognitivist makes the first of these denials, and the error theorist makes the second, thus noncognitivists and error theorists count as both moral anti-realists and moral skeptics. However, since the non-objectivity of some fact does not pose a particular problem regarding the possibility of one’s knowing it (I might know that a certain diamond is worth $1000, for example), then there is nothing to stop the moral non-objectivist from accepting the existence of moral knowledge. So moral non-objectivism is a form of moral anti-realism that need not be a form of moral skepticism. Conversely, one might maintain that moral judgments are sometimes objectively true—thus being a moral realist—while also maintaining that moral judgments always lack justification—thus being a moral skeptic.

Speaking more generally, moral anti-realism, as it has been defined here, contains no epistemological clause: it is silent on the question of whether we are justified in making moral judgments. This is worth noting since moral realists often want to support a view of morality that would guarantee our justified access to a realm of objective moral facts. But any such epistemic guarantee will need to be argued for separately; it is not implied by realism itself. Indeed, if objective facts are those that do not depend on our mental activity, then they are precisely those facts that we can all be mistaken about, and thus it seems reasonable to suppose that the desire for moral facts to be objective and the desire for a guarantee of epistemic access to moral facts are desiderata that are in tension with each other.

Second, it is worth stating explicitly that moral anti-realism is not a form of moral relativism—or, perhaps more usefully noted: that moral relativism is not a form of moral anti-realism. Moral relativism is a form of cognitivism according to which moral claims contain an indexical element, such that the truth of any such claim requires relativization to some individual or group. According to a simple form of relativism, the claim “Stealing is morally wrong” might be true when one person utters it, and false when someone else utters it. The important thing to note is that this would not necessarily make moral wrongness non-objective. For example, suppose someone were to make the relativistic claim that different moral values, virtues, and duties apply to different groups of people due to, say, their social caste. If this person were asked in virtue of what these relativistic moral facts obtain, there is nothing to prevent them offering the full-blooded realist answer: “It’s just the way the universe objectively is.” Relativism does not stand opposite objectivism; it stands opposite absolutism (the form of cognitivism according to which the truth of moral claims does not require relativization to any individual or group). One can be both a moral relativist and a moral objectivist (and thus a moral realist); conversely, one can be both a moral non-objectivist (and thus a moral anti-realist) and a moral absolutist.

Of course, someone could simply stipulate that moral realism includes the denial of moral relativism, and perhaps the philosophical community could be persuaded to adopt this definition (in which case this entry would need to be revised). But it seems reasonable to suspect that the common tendency to think that moral realism and moral relativism are opposed to each other is, more often than not, due a confused conflation of the objectivism/non-objectivism distinction and the absolutism/relativism distinction.

Third and finally, it might be helpful to clarify the relationship between moral anti-realism and moral naturalism. The moral naturalist believes that moral facts exist and fit within the worldview presented by science. (For example, a utilitarian view that identifies moral obligation with the production of happiness will count as a form of moral naturalism, since there is nothing particularly scientifically mysterious about happiness.) A moral naturalist may maintain that moral facts are objective in nature, in which case this moral naturalist will count as a moral realist. But a moral naturalist may instead maintain that the moral facts are not objective in nature, in which case this moral naturalist will count as a moral anti-realist.

Consider, for example, a simplistic non-objectivist theory that identifies moral goodness (say) with whatever a person approves of. Such a view would be a form of anti-realism (in virtue of its non-objectivism), but since the phenomenon of people approving of things is something that can be accommodated smoothly within a scientific framework, it would also be a form of moral naturalism. Conversely, if a moral realist maintains that the objective moral facts cannot be accommodated within the scientific worldview, then this moral realist will count as a moral non-naturalist.

The noncognitivist and the error theorist, it should be noted, count as neither moral naturalists nor moral non-naturalists, since they do not believe in moral facts at all. These kinds of moral anti-realist, however, may well be naturalists in a more general sense: they may maintain that the only items that we should admit into our ontology are those that fit within the scientific worldview. Indeed, it is quite likely that it is their commitment to this more general ontological naturalism that lies behind the noncognitivist’s and the error theorist’s moral skepticism, since they may deem that moral properties (were they to exist) would have to have characteristics that cannot be accommodated within a naturalistic framework.

Summing up: Some moral anti-realists will count as moral skeptics, but some may believe in moral knowledge. Some moral anti-realists will be relativists, but some may be moral absolutists (and many are neither). Some moral anti-realists will be moral naturalists, but some may be moral non-naturalists, and some will be neither moral naturalists nor non-naturalists. These various positions can be combined into a potentially bewildering array of possible complex metaethical positions (e.g., non-skeptical, relativistic, non-naturalistic moral anti-realism)—though, needless to say, these views may vary greatly in plausibility.2

  1. The Lovecraft eZine interviews Thomas Ligotti October 14, 2015 · by Mike Davis · in Conversation.
  2. Joyce, Richard, “Moral Anti-Realism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2021/entries/moral-anti-realism/&gt;.

Thomas Ligotti’s Rhetorical Strategies as a Weird Pessimist

After Poe and Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti was an inheritor of a decadent “tradition of cynicism, morbidity, and pessimism from the eighteenth-century works of authors like Sade, Chamfort, and La Rochefoucauld”. Ligotti in an interview would say of this tradition “This is the form of Decadence that has always interested me–the freedom, after thousands of years under the whip of uplifting religions and the tyrannical politics of the positive–which are nothing more than a means for crowd control–to speak to others who in their hearts could no longer lie to themselves about what they thought concerning the value, or rather lack of value, of human life.”2

In their work on popular forms of pessimism Joseph Packer and Ethan A. Stoneman – A Feeling of Wrongness suggest that,

“Thomas Ligotti is perhaps the first to make an explicit contribution to the philosophy of pessimism, which he did in 2010 with The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. In it, he describes his weird fiction and weird fiction in general as constituting a more or less thought-out strategy to spread pessimistic ideas. Building on Ligotti’s insight, this chapter maintains that weird fiction serves as something of a pessimistic Trojan horse: while promising a simple scary tale, it works to invoke in the reader a sense of uncanny fear and in ways that call into question the very nature of reality. But rather than presenting well-reasoned arguments in support of explicit pessimistic claims, weird fiction manifests or enacts pessimism, aesthetically, through the clever deployment of a range of stylistic devices and rhetorical maneuvers. What is more, by invoking the sense of the uncanny, such rhetorical tactics work to undermine the common psychological defenses of anchoring, thereby disrupting our ability to comprehend the world in terms of a coherent narrative. In so doing, they transform what would otherwise remain merely strange into an effective hostility against the world, against life, and against meaning.”

They offer four inroads into Weird Fiction as a Pessimism, saying,

“First (1) that weird fiction, by masquerading as a source of pleasant distraction, attracts an audience that might not be inclined to pick up a work by a Schopenhauer or a Zapffe; (2) that, by subtly blurring the line between the natural and the supernatural, weird fiction weakens readers’ inclination to isolate and, hence, neutralize the pessimistic undertones of any given weird tale; (3) that weird fiction’s monstrous aberrations destabilize the conceptual-ontological categories of space and time, knowing, and performing, all of which serve to anchor human beings’ feelings of existential security, both in the world and in their own skin; and (4) that the very structure of weird fiction inhibits audiences from sublimating the uncannily horrific into a life-affirming experience.”

Thomas Ligotti on his Pessimism:

“My pessimism doesn’t have a metaphysical basis like Schopenhauer’s Will-to-Live, which I never understood as a reading of the universe that would necessarily lead one to a grim view of life. To me, it seems closely related to Bergson’s elan vital. At the same time, I’ve used the idea of anima mundi in a few stories to represent the same kind of driving force as the Will-to-Live, with the difference that it’s a personal evil not an indifferent type of energy that makes the world move as it does. Schopenhauer’s Will-to-Live is as difficult to swallow as any other monist explanation for everything. … I couldn’t care less about metaphysical matters that are so monumentally inevident. Then again, most of us would say the same about philosophical pessimism, whose sole contention is that the suffering of sentient beings absolutely negates the value of life. One can only agree or disagree with this philosophy. The foundation of pessimism is not a matter of logic or truth except when it ventures into matters of metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, morality, or any of the other areas of interest that philosophers see as their remit and purpose. And most pessimists do venture into these matters, if only to provide an answer to why life is as awful as they judge it to be. … Perhaps the only element that overrides our hunger for conflict is our preoccupation with continued individual and collective existence. In the end, this could prove to be as unpromising a project as antinatalism, considering the many ways we’ve invented to end ourselves either on purpose or by accident. Of course, all this is only my opinion of how things are with us. Such an opinion might have led me into misanthropy, but it didn’t. I may have said once or twice that I’d like to unmake or destroy the universe. But I don’t see how that casts me as a misanthrope. It’s just the grandiose aspiration of an ordinary pessimist.

—Thomas Ligotti and Xavier Aldana Reyes (June 2019)

  1. Packer, Joseph; Stoneman, Ethan. A Feeling of Wrongness (Pessimistic Rhetoric on the Fringes of Popular Culture) (pp. 35-36). Penn State University Press.
  2. The Ligotti Outtakes – From Correspondence 06/ 2004 – 09/ 2004 By: Neddal Ayad & Thomas Ligotti

Schopenhauer’s Ethics of Compassion

Schopenhauer’s Ethics of Compassion

“Instead, focus alone on his suffering, his distress, his fear, his pain— then you will always feel kinship with him, sympathize with him and instead of hatred or contempt sense that compassion for him which alone is agape, and to which we are exhorted by the gospels. (Schopenhauer, PP.II.184) “

This brings him close to the Gnostics when Schopenhauer suggests that if we begin to ‘conceive of the world as the work of our own guilt, therefore as something that it were better did not exist’ (PP.II.271), then we can accustom ourselves to ‘regarding this world as a place of penance, hence as a prison, a penal colony as it were, a labour camp’ (PP.II.272). Some of the Gnostics would conceive of this world and universe as hell, as a prison within which we are enslaved and trapped by the dark Archons of the blind and merciless Demiurge. The result of such a perception would not be despair or immorality, but rather an attitude of deep sympathy and compassion for our ‘fellow-sufferer[s]’:

“In fact, the conviction that the world and therefore also mankind is something that actually should not be, is designed to fill us with forbearance towards one another, for what can be expected of beings in such a predicament? Indeed, from this point of view one could arrive at the notion that the really proper mode of address between human beings…”

The crucial concept in morality, for Schopenhauer, is Mitleid: pity, sympathy, compassion. This is the strangely disquieting resemblance to Buddhism in his work. Why not indifference? This is what Shakespeare’s thought ultimately leads too.

“… And look upon, as if the tragedy
Were play’d in jest by counterfeiting actors”
(King Henry VI, part 3, act 2, sc. 3)

If everything is ‘dukka’ (suffering) and our world is maya-shakti-deva the realm of delusion and illusion, then what does the suffering of the other mean to me? One should neither envy or suffer another’s pain or guilt but rather develop that stoic awareness of complete indifference. The indifference to which I refer is not some bland idiocy of not caring, but of knowing the truth of the matter and acting on it not out of some emotion of pity or compassion but out of one’s experiential truth. This whole need to ‘show’ compassion for the earth, animals, humans, etc. leads to false attachments and mixed emotions. This emotion of ‘pity’ is a sign of accepting that something about existence matters, is real, is worth one’s time and investment. But if this is so then one is not a pessimist in the strict sense of the word, but something else. Caring for another is just a matter of truth rather than pity. One sees a fellow human or animal in pain, one just helps alleviate their misery not because one feels pity but that one too suffers from such pain and suffering but knows the truth of it and also knows that the alleviation of such misery and pain is a good from personal experience. Ethics cannot in the secular atheistic framework of which pessimism is the philosophy base morality on pity, compassion, or sympathy but rather on experiential (a posteriori) truth and knowledge.

Schopenhauer’s Theodicy?

Schopenhauer against any Christian sense of guilt and retribution would align himself with the older paganism of the Greeks in the sense of tragic debt,

“Far from bearing the character of a gift, human existence has entirely the character of a contracted debt. The calling in of this debt appears in the shape of the urgent needs, tormenting desires, and endless misery brought about through that existence. As a rule, the whole lifetime is used for paying off this debt, yet in this way only the interest is cleared off. Repayment of the capital takes place through death. And when was this debt contracted? At the begetting. (WWR.II.580)”

This sense that we are born into existence cursed and in debt, that our sojourn in this ‘vale of tears’ is itself a punishment incurred not from some god(s) before we were born but in the very moment of being born itself. Much like Zizek’s rendition of the ‘appearance of appearance’ there is nothing behind the screen, no big bad boy meeting out punishment. No it’s just the natural process of being in Being, existence itself as a debt. We are all guilty of existence tout court. Blind necessity and the drive (trieb) mercilessly strives with itself as strife and conflict producing this void of our inexistence in time – being those beings that never are complete in ourselves, but always striving toward that thing we cannot be. Driven forward on an impossible mission in an unceasing roller-coaster going nowhere.
Schopenhauer’s sophistry comes out as he sees this supposed universal debt: “If we wish to measure the degree of guilt with which our existence itself is burdened, let us look at the suffering connected with it. Every great pain, whether bodily or mental, states what we deserve; for it could not come to us if we did not deserve it. (WWR.II.580)”

How could we deserve suffering? This is ludicrous. This seems to me Schopenhauer going mad unable to find an actual natural explanation and realizing that there is no answer. So he begins falling into sophistry… mixing Christian (Augustinian) and Pagan (Greek) thought in some ludicrous mish-mash as prelude to his redemptive message. Sadly, this is pathetic on his part.

Even Mara van der Lugt who I’ve quoted in previous posts says,

“How can Schopenhauer suppose that his notion of natural guilt makes the fabric of the world ultimately just or justified in any meaningful way? It is one thing to speak of debt or guilt—it is quite another to speak of justice, let alone of justification, as he does in this passage:

“The justification [Rechtfertigung] for suffering is the fact that the will affirms itself even in this phenomenon; and this affirmation is justified and balanced by the fact that the will bears the suffering. (WWR.I.331)”
This whole notion that we deserve our suffering is madness itself. Schopenhauer has worked himself into a werid theodicy that seems to strip Augustinian theology into a secular atheism without god. An Atheology more akin to the Gnostics, but without their god… yet, as we will see later maybe the Gnostic notion is not so far off since he will seek a form of atheistic redemption. Since for him the Will-to-Live is the deep diver of his cosmos then as van der Lugt puts it: “Original sin, then, is nothing other than the affirmation of the will-to-live, which is the deeper cause of all our sufferings: it is by affirming our will-to-live that we are capable of suffering at all.”

f Milton wrote the great Christian poem to “justify the ways of God to man,” then Schopenhauer seems to have sought to write the great philosophy to justify the ways of Dike and Necessity to secular atheists as the new gospel of suffering, guilt, and consolation. Strange waters we dip into here…

Schopenhauer recognises this problem at several points in the Parerga in particular, where he asks: ‘To what end this tormented, fearful will in thousands of forms without the freedom to redemption which is conditioned by soundness of mind?’ Schopenhauer’s answer is uncharacteristically hesitant: ‘the will to life must devour its own flesh . . . , and it is a hungry will’; furthermore, ‘the capacity for suffering in animals is much smaller than in mankind’ (PP.II.290–1; his emphasis). (Mara van der Lugt: Dark Matters, 370). As he’ll suggest in another passage in the Parerga: “the capacity for pain would have to reach its zenith only where the possibility for negation of the will is present, by virtue of reason and its soundness of mind. For without this, the capacity for pain would be nothing but a pointless cruelty.”

Lugt in her assay adds: “Schopenhauer’s theodicean instinct arises exactly at this point: life is suffering, but this suffering is neither pointless nor cruel, since there is a way out. Ultimately, therefore, the creature has no just complaint. To which a Bayle or a Hume might object: Why could it not be a ‘pointless cruelty’ that we suffer as we do? Is it not precisely the case that we often suffer, and suffer undeservedly, without a way out of suffering? Is this not precisely what decides the tragic nature of our existence? (Dark Matters, 371).

I would say with Bayle and Hume that there can be no atheistic justification for this Schopenhauerian theodicy of redemption, no consolation or redemptive vision but that truly existence is ‘pointless’ and ‘cruel’ through and through. Oh, sure, we find pockets of reprieve in Zappfe’s quartet of isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation (in art, etc.) but these are only temporary remedies not abiding consolations or redemptive visions that are permanent. Most of our existence is drudgery, work, mindless repetition, and endless cruelty as we struggle with boredom, apathy, and the dark contours of the aging process into dissolution, decay, and eventual death. Of course, most humans on this planet opt out for some kind of illusory system of god(s) to assuage their dismay at being born into such a suffering world. Who could blame them? I can’t. But I cannot abide in their delusions of some redeemer either. They will of course rebuff me and call me a sinner, atheist, and devil. Let them. I live and was born the same as they, and I’m free to use my mind, imagination, and thought just as they do but for me it is without the need for some illusory justification of sin and guilt and debt. I just am. That is enough.

Pessimism: Why pessimism matters so much to Schopenhauer?

The sun will not transgress his measures. If he does, the Furies, ministers of Justice, will find him out.

One must realize that war is shared and Strife is Justice, and that all things come to pass in accordance with conflict.

War is father of all and king of all; and some he has shown as gods, others men; some he has made slaves, others free.

—Heraclitus, The Fragments

In her work ‘Dark Matters: Pessimism and the Problem of Suffering’ Mara van der Lugt will ask of Schopenhauer:

So much for the technical basis of Schopenhauer’s case for pessimism. A dif­ferent way of approaching this part of his philosophy is to ask why pessimism matters so much to Schopenhauer. After all, while he is acutely aware of earlier pessimists, Schopenhauer is not reacting explicitly to theodicy as Bayle and Voltaire were, and he believes theodicean optimism to have been well refuted by thinkers such as Voltaire and Hume. Why, then, is pessimism so crucial for Schopenhauer? Why is it pessimism that is presented as a kind of climax to his entire system? In other words: Why pessimism at all?

She will find three reasons for this. First, that pessimism for Schopenhauer is “true”. “When he cites the tragic poets, it is because he believes they were right in describing a world of suffering. Hume and Voltaire are seen to win out over Leibniz and Rousseau not because their arguments were cleverer, but because of the overwhelming descriptive and explanatory power of pessimism over optimism.” Second, “less obvious reason behind Schopenhauer’s pessimism has to do with a moral drive that, while less evident in Schopenhauer than in other pessimists, is present nonetheless.” She goes on to explain,

“Schopenhauer is not a nihilist or a fatalist, and his pessimism is not born from a Nietzschean impulse to do away with morality, or sympathy, or truth. Schopenhauer believes that there is a deeply redemptive as well as didactic value to pessimism: that this philosophy is able to offer, on the individual level, a prospect of consolation or even redemption, and, on the social level, a powerful motivation for moral improvement. Schopenhauer’s pessimism, therefore, cannot rightly be understood without also understanding its connection with consolation and redemption on the individual level, and to ethics on the social.”
And, finally, Schopenhauer’s sense of ‘eternal justice’: “Deep within the heart of

Schopenhauer’s antitheodicean enterprise there occurs what seems to be a theodicean moment: an almost Augustinian-sounding justification of suffering by way of guilt, which for Schopenhauer is crucial to the very project of pessimism. This justification, which draws equally from Christian and pagan sources, is perhaps one of the most curious aspects of Schopenhauer’s philosophy—and this too is essential for understanding the deeper mechanics of his philosophical project.”

My own view on his sense of justice is more aligned with his readings of Heraclitus and Hesiod. Heraclitus’ political doctrine can be seen as a development of Hesiod’s old insight, that the order allotted by Zeus to mankind is to follow justice and shun violence: ‘for to fish and beasts and winged birds he gave the rule (nomos) that they eat one another, since there is no justice among them; but to human beings he gave justice (dike). Of course, Dike is the Greek mythological goddess of justice and the spirit of moral order and fair judgement as a transcendent universal ideal or based on immemorial custom, in the sense of socially enforced norms and conventional rules. According to Hesiod (Theogony, l. 901), she was fathered by Zeus upon his second consort, Themis. She and her mother are both personifications of justice. She is depicted as a young, slender woman carrying a balance scale and wearing a laurel wreath. The constellation Libra (the Scales) was anciently thought to represent her distinctive symbol. In our modern rendition of this notion is the lady of blind justice we see in the courtrooms across the world, this inevitability of a dark presage and cosmic justice running through things that in the end though blind works itself out. I would add this sense of necessity as central to this blind truth. As Charles H. Kahn in his fine study of Heraclitus will suggest of Dike and Justice,

“Heraclitus’ restatement of this traditional view marks the birth of political philosophy proper and the beginnings of the theory of natural law, which will receive its classic statement by the Stoics working under his inspiration. Heraclitus’ own formulation is novel in three respects. He generalizes the notion of Justice to apply to every manifestation of cosmic order, including the rule of the jungle by which birds and beasts eat one another (LXXXII, D. 80). Secondly, human law is conceived as the unifying principle of the political community, and thus as grounded in the rational order of nature which unifies the cosmos. Finally, the unique status of human nomos and the political order is interpreted as a consequence of the common human possession of speech (logos) and understanding (noos), that is, as a consequence of the rational capacity to communicate one’s thoughts and come to an agreement (homologein in XXXVI, D. 50, echoing xyn legontas in XXX, D. 114).”

Pessimism’s Central Insight

“Life is a constant process of dying.”
― Arthur Schopenhauer

“Life is Suffering.”
― Buddha

The inevitability of suffering decline, decay, dissolution and eventual death is the central insight of the pessimistic traditions. This age-old battle between life and death, entropy and negentropy is played out in every aspect of the universe from the birth and death of stars to the smallest particles that arise and then decay into inexistence. The ancient Taoists in their naturalist philosophies would see it as a pattern to be discerned in shadow and light, the eternal round of these vast spiraling forces in never-ending combat. Parmenides’ suspicion regarding matter inevitably lent support to the suspicions brought to bear on every aspect of Thought and Being. Heraclitus would see the cosmic order as never-ending strife “the same of all, no god nor man did create, but it ever was and is and will be: everliving fire, kindling in measures and being quenched in measures.” In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche tells the ancient story of King Midas hunting in the forest for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus. At last, after many years, the King manages to capture him and asks what is the best and most desirable thing for man. Silenus maintains a surly silence until, goaded by the King, he bursts out with a contemptuous laugh and says, “Oh, wretched ephemeral race … why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is—to die soon.”