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.

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