About S.C. Hickman

I'm a poet, short story author, and philosophical speculator of the real within which we all live and have our being. I take an interest in all things: travel, write, love, and most of all ponder the mysteries of existence.

The Marionette Machine

We need to know that puppets are puppets. Nevertheless, we may still be alarmed by them. Because if we look at a puppet in a certain way, we may sometimes feel it is looking back, not as a human being looks at us but as a puppet does.

—Thomas Ligotti,  The Conspiracy against the Human Race

What if you woke up one morning and you were strapped into a strange contraption not knowing what it was, who put you here, and for what purpose? Then what if you suddenly begin to do things, simple things at first like lifting your right hand, then left; then closing your left eye, then right; then moving your legs to specific metrical motions as a subtle music appears in a surround mode; and, then you begin speaking in an unknown tongue against your will; everything happening to you against your will, and no matter what you do you cannot stop it? What would you do?

What if a voice suddenly appears in your head, a voice not your own speaking softly telling you it can do anything with you that it likes? Then to prove it, it requests you sing one of Tiny Tim’s old comic songs; and, you do, even though you are doing everything in your power not to, or – so you think.

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No Turning Back Now: Generation Null

A young man Florian: “You really take no account of what happens to us. When I talk to young people of my generation, those within two or three years of my own age, they all say the same thing: we no longer have the dream of starting a family, of having children, or a trade, or ideals, as you yourselves did when you were teenagers. All that is over and done with, because we’re sure that we will be the last generation, or one of the last, before the end.”

—Bernard Stiegler,  The Age of Disruption

There are teenagers coming of age right now who already have that dark presentiment that the future does not exist for them. What the late Mark Fisher decried a decade ago has now through media hype and saturation become the mythic framework of our age: the Age of Catastrophe.

Since we know civilization has lost its reason, become absolutely mad across the planet; an age of the “new barbarians of stupidity,” entering an era in which the “thirst for annihilation” is not just a philosophical provocation; but a very real possibility: Omnicide – an absolute from which “nothing human gets out alive,” (Land) becomes not only a possibility but a strange presentiment of the history of the future – then there is no turning away from the imperative to “study this riddle in all its mystifying complexity—to walk the tightrope across which a lone state of delirium might form a hidden route to world-erasure” (Bahbak).

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How the Dead Live

Robert William Arthur Cook (12 June 1931 – 30 July 1994), better known since the 1980s by his pen name Derek Raymond, wrote a series of novels about a lonely cop on the beat, a sergeant at London Metropolitan Police’s Department of Unexplained Deaths, also known as A14. The quote below is from the third book in that series, a quote that has sunk down in for many years:

As I stood there I suddenly felt afraid – not of what confronted me but in a general way. I thought and felt that the secret of existence was perhaps to get old with beauty, ironically, coming closer and closer to you as you aged; innocence, everything that you had rejected or ignored as a young man, entering you like music all the time until in the end there was no more time. Then much of what had seemed so hard would be over, after too much work in cities, after patrolling too many streets for too long, after studying too many faces with the sly, fixed look of the dead.

Intelligence is at the service of us all and I believe that curiosity and investigation, like a chicken’s beak, are intended to kill the viper that threatens an egg. Powerful curiosity is the source of all detection and is surely its own end, a field cleared and well ploughed – but it is too simple for us only to have justice and logic; what use are either without mercy? The eternal cycle, the beginning, middle and end of a human being, the incomprehensible dance in the magic of our own theatre will continue for ever. But ignorance of our birth and death makes us largely mad; the majority of us clap at our disasters as though they were a play; but it is a work that we cannot possibly understand. Throughout our obscure race in life our entire frame is intended, is inclined to return to the earth on which our parents lay flat to conceive us; from a great distance our planet is an extraordinary sight, more so than most of us can yet understand, and I think that in the meantime we ought to be very careful about how we treat the flesh that we are.


  1. Raymond, Derek, How the Dead Live (Factory 3) (pp. 149-150). Random House Inc Clients. Kindle Edition.

On Whiskey Devil by Christian Galacar…

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Just finished this short story by Christian Galacar, Whisky Devil. All I could think of was I’ve been there, done that. A young boy of twelve growing up in a home with an alcoholic old man. I remember the times I had the shit beat out of me by my step-dad when he was drunk. I remember the hate in my blood for that old man. I remember what he did to my mama. I remember when I got old enough to finally say enough is enough… I think I’m not alone in this world with such a past. They say violence breeds violence; that might be right, but sometimes a person has to do what a person has to do— not because its the right thing, but because its from a dark place within that finally breaks and twists and pulls one down into that gutter where pain and murderous intent seem to breed terrible things; monstrous thoughts beyond reckoning. It’s sad to be broken like that. It’s sad to be torn by such ferocity that one has to meet it on those same terms. Somethin in you dies when that happens. Somethin that will never come back to its original balance, and leaves you in that dark place where hate mixes with fear and disgust. A kind of thing you’d like to wipe out of your memory, but know that’s not ever going to be possible.

This story takes you down into that dark place where things go wrong and nothing can ever remain the same; and, yet, unlike life it doesn’t leave you there, but carries you forward. It’s a story about a boy who becomes a man the hard way; lifted out of that childhood dream of innocence by an act of violence which leaves him in desolations graveyard. It’s about a boy who learns to face down the fears inside his own child’s mind till the tears run clean and true and without remorse. Where the guilt of being who and what he’s becoming marks him in that shattered mirror where the soul burns, and burns blacker than sin…


Whiskey Devil

Visit the author on his blog: https://www.christiangalacar.com/

Thomas Ligotti’s Death Poems: A Commentary #1

Here You Go

Death is frightening,
and dying just as bad.
Say what you will,
we don’t take it well.
Then how can we live,
with all that ahead?
Something must be
fooling us constantly.
Our brains are tricked
so that we don’t believe,
for whatever reason,
we won’t go on and on.
Our thoughts are clouded
so that we can’t conceive
the exact process
that’s waiting for us.
Or perhaps we think that
when the moment comes
someone else will arrive
to take over—we’ll survive.
Where logic is concerned,
we’re all thumbs.
How couldn’t we know
we were born to go?

Ligotti in an interview would say of Nabokov,

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Samuel Beckett, The Assumption

“In the silence of his room he was afraid, afraid of that wild rebellious surge that aspired violently towards realization in sound. He felt its implacable caged resentment, its longing to be released in one splendid drunken scream and fused with the cosmic discord. Its struggle for divinity was as real as his own, and as futile. … Fear breeds fear: he began to have a horror of unexpected pain, of sleep, of anything that might remove the involuntary inhibition. He drugged himself that he might sleep heavily, silently; he scarcely left his room, scarcely spoke, thus denying even that rare transmutation to the rising tossing soundlessness that seemed now to rend his whole being with the violence of its effort. He felt he was losing, playing into the hands of the enemy by the very severity of his restrictions. By damming the stream of whispers he had raised the level of the flood, and he knew the day would come when it could no longer be denied. Still he was silent, in silence listening for the first murmur of the torrent that must destroy him.”

– Samuel. Beckett, The Complete Short Prose of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1989 (p. 5). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

I Dream of an Eleusis of Disabused Hearts

Where to locate the poetry of lies, the goad of an enigma?

The man who has not given himself up to the pleasures of anguish, who has not savored in his mind the dangers of his own extinction nor relished such cruel and sweet annihilations, will never be cured of the obsession with death: he will be tormented by it, for he will have resisted it; while the man who, habituated to a discipline of horror, and meditating upon his own carrion, has deliberately reduced himself to ashes—that man will look toward death’s past, and he himself will be merely a resurrected being who can no longer live. His “method” will have cured him of both life and death.

Every crucial experience is fatal: the layers of existence lack density; the man who explores them, archaeologist of the heart, of being, finds himself, at the end of his researches, confronting empty depths. He will vainly regret the panoply of appearances.

Hence the ancient Mysteries, so-called revelations of the ultimate secrets, have bequeathed us nothing by way of knowledge. The initiates were doubtless obliged to keep silence; yet it is inconceivable that not a single chatterbox was among their number; what is more contrary to human nature than such stubbornness in secrecy? The fact is that there were no secrets; there were rites, there were shudders. Once the veils had fallen, what could they discover but insignificant consequences? The only initiation is to nothingness—and to the mockery of being alive, . . . And I dream of an Eleusis of disabused hearts, of a lucid Mystery, without gods and without the vehemences of illusion.

—Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

Night of the Demons

In the Aztec empire, every fifty-two years, once in an average lifetime, the world was on the verge of coming to an end. The sun would no longer move, night would be eternal, and man-eating demons would descend to rule the earth.

On that day all fires were extinguished, and floors were swept clean. Old clothes, the images of gods kept in the house, the hearthstones on which cooking pots were kept, mats, pestles, and grindstones were cast into lakes and rivers. Pregnant women were given maguey masks and locked in granaries; if the world ended, they would turn into monsters.

That night, everyone dressed in new clothes, climbed onto terraces and rooftops; no one touched the ground. Children were poked and threatened, to keep them awake; those who slept would wake up as mice. In Tenochtitlan, the capital, eyes were fixed on the temple atop the Hill of the Star. There, at midnight, the priests were watching the stars called Tianquitzli, the Marketplace, our Pleiades, to see if they would cross the meridian and ensure another fifty-two years of life.

In the temple, a prisoner without physical blemishes, with a name meaning turquoise, year, fire, grass, or comet— words that denote precious time— was stretched across a flat stone with a piece of wood on his chest. As the Tianquitzli constellation crossed the line, a priest began furiously spinning his fire drill into the wood. A little smoke, a few sparks, and then, as the wood took flame, the prisoner’s chest was slit open with an obsidian knife, his heart pulled out and set in the fire. Four bundles of tied wood, each with thirteen logs, were piled around him so that his whole body was consumed by flames. As the bonfire became visible, the people slashed their ears and the ears of their children, scattering blood toward the flames.

Messengers carried torches from the Hill of the Star to the principal temples, and from there to the palaces, and from the palaces, street by street, house by house, until the whole city was lit again. All night, relay runners carried the new fire throughout the empire. People threw themselves at the fire to be blessed with blisters.

Children born in the night were given the name New Time. In the morning new mats were spread out, new hearthstones placed, incense lit, and honey-dipped amaranth seed cakes eaten by all. Quails were decapitated.

—Eliot Weinberger, An Elemental Thing

The Fantastic Life of Douglas Harding: The Man With No Head

Thomas Ligotti speaks of being influenced by Douglas Harding whose life would impact his notions of No-Self and Void. It was Matt Cardin who introduced Harding’s works to Ligotti. In a tweet to me Matt described that Tom had mentioned Harding in an early draft of his The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror, but had removed it in the final version. He did incorporate this headless notion in a poem in his the Unholy City:

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Andy Rausch: Bloody Sheets – A Revenge Tale

Sometimes a person is forced into that dark place where either you turn and confront it or it kills you. In such times, and in such places there is no escape, only the hatred that is neither forgiving nor accepting just full of that wounded pain that want go away, ever. Reading Andy Rausch’s tale Bloody Sheets is like that, a place with no easy outs only a one way trip to hell.

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On the Modern Daemonic

Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus (1947) employs the Faust myth in a similar way: the ‘demonic’ spirit is one which reveals everything as ‘its own parody’, and which sees through forms to the formlessness they conceal. Through Leverkühn, the artist, a demonic voice calls nature ‘illiterate’, mere vacancy, and the universe a space filled with signs deprived of meanings. Transformations of the Faust myth epitomize the semantic changes undergone by fantasy in literature within a progressively secularized culture. The demonic pact which Faust makes signifies a desire for absolute knowledge, for a realization of impossibility, transgressing temporal, spatial and personal limitations, becoming as God. But this desire is represented as increasingly tragic, futile and parodic. In a general shift from a supernatural to a natural economy of images, the demonic pact comes to be synonymous with an impossible desire to break human limits, it becomes a negative version of desire for the infinite. In the modern fantastic, this desire expresses itself as a violent transgression of all human limitations and social taboos prohibiting the realization of desire. In these versions of Faust, the naming of the demonic reveals a progressive pull towards a recognition of otherness as neither supernatural nor evil but as that which is behind, or between, separating forms and frames. ‘Otherness’ is all that threatens ‘this’ world, this ‘real’ world, with dissolution: and it is this opposition which lies behind the several myths which have developed in the modern fantastic.

—Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion

The Last Book

All books are exits from life. Books must be destroyed.

—Mark Samuels, The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales

The Collective was putting tenets into action that few dared even to consider. It destroyed works because it believed none had meaning or significance, because words only mean other words and chase each other, in a linguistic game of tag, to a void. The Collective’s operatives were terrorists, empty visionaries, who, in a perverse fashion, could be said to have collaborated with an author, even if only through destruction. And in fact they found that the most effective operatives were authors who had been turned to their cause: poachers turned gamekeepers.

For the vast majority of people, books were simply ornaments to a room, advertising their owners’ intellectual vanity. One in a million books was ever re-read and the so-called classics were mostly dipped into and unadmittedly discarded or force-read. Not though by academics, who canonised these “classics” and lived like parasites on the obscurity they generated. The masses were as vile in their own way. They read drivel churned out by illiterates. These illiterate authors had allowed themselves to become “product”. And then there was the worst of all: books that instructed us on how to live, when to turn to such books was a symptom of the disease, not its cure.

The activities of these secret book-exterminators were not confined to the destruction of published works. They were invariably ready to obliterate manuscripts of all types that came into their possession willingly or unwillingly. The merits of a writer’s work were of no interest to them and they viewed the existence of literary work as a proliferation of vermin, being only too willing to act as pest controllers in this regard. All texts were without a centre of meaning. Their interpretation rested with the reader, not the author. There could be no agreed purpose to a text. All was chaos. The text was an autonomous entity. In short, without the reader the text did not even exist save as a cipher. …

So he asked how the Collective could justify the destruction of his very identity, as only this measure would rid him of his bibliophilia for good. And Yaanek told him frankly that any notion of individual identity was a lie. There is no “self” to destroy. Once Glickman had grasped the final truth that the “I” does not exist, that his past life was illusory, then he would be free. All perception is a series of mental states, unfixed, fluid; like text, devoid of central meaning. The destruction of books was simply the first stage of a greater purpose: the gradual elimination of human consciousness. “We are anti-publishers,” said Yaanek, “and ultimately, anti-thinkers.”

And information was drained out of everything.

from Mark Samuels, The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales

To read Mark Samuels “Glickman the Bibliophile” is to be transported into realms fused with Thomas Ligotti and Franz Kafka, a world where both bureaucracy and the erasure of Self become the all-encompassing imperative. The insanity of such an imperative in which all knowledge and thought become anathema, and the ultimate goal is the extinction of information in all its forms: mental, physical, and… metaphysical. Such is the realm of hell, a place where mindless humans perform the essential task of the destruction of thought and thinking, books and authors. One could say the ultimate goal is the uncreation of all sentience: consciousness itself as the ultimate disease for which the cure is annihilation. Dark indeed is such a thought…


  1. Samuels, Mark. The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales. Chomu Press (March 16, 2011) (“Glickman the Bibliophile”)

A Fantastic Poetics: Beyond Philosophy or Poetry?

 


Rosemary Jackson in Fantasy – A Literature of Subversion discusses the opposing aspects of two trends: the one pushing toward the unnameable ‘nameless thing’ of horror fiction; the other of the anti-realist ‘thingless names’ of the signifying process itself cut off in the prison house of language:

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Christopher Slatsky: The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature

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One of my favorite horror writer’s Christopher Slatsky has a new work coming out in a finely crafted small press edition from Grimscribe Press! As the synopsis informs us:

“From the author of Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales comes this devastating collection of fifteen stories and essays. A father’s desperate search for his missing child leads to a cosmic haunted realm. A woman returns to her childhood home to find a past preserved in a semblance of life. A young man and his canine companion are plunged into the heart of an occult government exercise deep within a Pacific Northwest forest. An elderly man is subject to mysterious experiments as he descends into dementia. And, in the title novella, a forensic anthropologist is called to the site of the mass suicide of an anti-natalist cult obsessed with contacting Nature.”

I wrote a review of his previous work in which I remarked that Slatsky’s tales inhabit that dark space, deliver the goods you relish, a ghoulish festival of aberrant delights that should let your night be broken and twisted till you crave reprieve from such demented realms and secret mindless miseries. Over the top? Hyperbolical? Am I shitting? No, its actually that good. If you crave atmosphere, if you like the visceral slime-pit of the grotesque and the macabre, a waltz into the scatological worlds of decay and organic demise this is your guy. He doesn’t pull any punches, and he weaves tales that are neither pastiche nor a silent send off to the great masters of the past, but rather let’s those influences – and, remember influence was once a term of astrological import of letting in the star power of dark light mingle with your own. I still stand by that statement and hope the new collection, along with the art by Käthe Kollwitz will entice the awards he so rightly deserves.

Feel free to buy the deluxe edition on pre-order from Grimscribe Press today!

The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature

Radicalizing Pessimism: Toward an Inhumanist Core


Where I’m at is that having plunged for years and drunk from the well of nihilist and pessimist thought I realize that yes… we are that accident of things… the universe is as both nihilists and pessimists stipulate: is absolutely indifferent and unaware of our existence… but, that’s the point: we aren’t, we are very aware of our difference and consciousness… so do we passively sit back and accept that indifference or do we take our accidental difference as something unique and new in this universe of absolute indifference and nullity and thereby act on it: do we in other words invent the possibility of accepting the absolute indifference as the ground zero of thought, and work or think from that indifference and unknowing? Is there a path that absolutizes nihilism and pessimism, works through it and radicalizes it? And thereby opens up that circle of our difference to something new?

Most extreme nihilists argue we are an ‘error’ that the universe will sooner or later eradicate. But this is to impute a telos and god-like invention-creational powers to the universe as if it were aware and definitely concerned rather than indifferent to our plight. Too believe the universe has allowed an ‘error’ to take place in the invention of consciousness is to impute a power of knowledge and foresight to a supposed non-entity and non-agency. So to me the very bedrock of most extreme pessimists from Mainlander, Bahnsen, Zappfe, Cioran, and Ligotti have imputed a notion that has nothing to do with the indifferent universe which knows nothing of errors, and all too much human-all-too-human diagnosis of the pessimists themselves. So do we accept this notion of ‘error’ as if along with Fermi’s paradox and the Great Filter we will be eradicated because of some hidden form either in the universe or ourselves that is in-built leading toward total annihilation? Or, should we radicalize the extreme pessimists even further and strip even them of their all-too-human forms of thought, and thereby break the circle of their still too human negations into a more inhuman philosophy yet to be reckoned?

A New Paradigm, a New Worldview?

Science, says Thomas Kuhn, has periods of crisis, when there is no agreement about the dominant paradigm, when application of the paradigm which has previously governed scientific enquiry in a particular area discloses an unacceptable number of anomalous cases which cannot be convincingly assimilated to it; at such moments new paradigms may be proposed which are more successful in accounting for the evidence and which necessitate a radical re-evaluation of work governed by earlier paradigms.

But what if this were true of Society itself? Are we not proving this even now as we question the tenets of two hundred years under the socio-cultural paradigm of Secularism and Enlightenment? For two hundred years we’ve questioned the old sense of liberal subjectivist identity and have found it wanting; and, yet, isn’t the very political structure that supported such an identity become in itself obsolete? We still pretend with ourselves that democracy which underpins the whole gamut of our socio-cultural system is somehow static and sacrosanct as if it were the last bastion of social justice and freedom between us and … what? chaos, change, difference?

If one does away with the progressive enlightened Subject what remains of its society and culture? Obviously we’ve been critiquing to the death the notion of Self-Subject for sixty odd years to the point that the notion of a Self has vanished into the neuroscientific void and emptiness of a non-category of there is no one home… the Self as empty and non-essential, and the socio-cultural world that supported it – our humanistic heritage is but a dream of stupidity and error; and, yet, we continue to support the political structures of Representation of these empty Identities without ever questioning their validity. When will we topple the whole enterprise of Secular Democratic Society and Culture and formulate something new?

We bandy about all these new-fangled notions of inhuman, posthuman, transhuman, anti-human as if there were within those untidy knots of scholarship, philosophy, scientific and theoretical work something hinting at a sea-change in thought which might suddenly reveal a new socio-cultural framework to replace the failing edifice of Enlightened Secular worldview. When will it step out from the cave of its dark intuition and reveal itself? Are we to battle over new forms of rational and non-rational thought till doomsday arrives and does away with the whole human project; or, will we actually begin awakening to a new worldview that can shape us to the new?

Throughout that untidy thing we term loosely ‘history’ there were always small groups, advanced harbingers of change, secretive enclaves of intellect and imagination who broke through the barriers of resistance and gave birth to such paradigm shifts. Artists, philosophers, poets, essayists, critics, scientists, etc. who shared among themselves this strange new world with new cognitive and imaginative concepts and metaphors toward this transitional world. We saw this in the Enlightenment of the philosophes…. So who are our philosophes? Who among us are the Avant-garde leading the way to a new worldview that can replace this sick and dying, even decadent and broken world of ruins within which we too are suffocating and dying… ?

Sometimes I believe we are doomed to end in that false infinity of post-modern thought in which we’ve become subject to what deconstructionist criticism calls ‘infinite deferral’ or ‘postponement’. As if we will never arrive… lost on the sea of time looping in an endless world of critique without any sign of ending or beginning, only the destitution of non-thought and stasis: a living death amid the sea-change of a global catastrophe. As if we were all watching the future coming at us as doom and gloom when all along there were in our hands the very tools at hand that would have given us the ability to change. Will we change, or will we just continue circling in the darkness of this cave of doubt frozen to the screen of some shadow world film in which we are forever prisoners of some master puppeteer? Can we break away from that dark screen and walk out of the cave of this era’s inability to act and create something new to move the human project forward or see it finally play out its end-game in self-lacerating defeat at the hands of its own inability to act? It’s really up to all of us to do something now, to act on this subtle swerve of time and change and help it awaken in our midst, to build a future worth living in out of the dying embers of a decaying civilization which is already passing into oblivion.

Fantasy as Subversion: Unbinding the World

Red Planets we have. We should not neglect the red dragons.
—China Miéville

Realism gives me the impression of a mistake. Violence alone escapes the feeling of poverty of those realistic experiences. Only death and desire have the force that oppresses, that takes one’s breath away. Only the extremism of desire and death enable one to attain the truth.
― Georges Bataille, The Impossible: A Story of Rats

In one of his usual drifts Slavoj Zizek tells us the reproduction of the Real in our time is handled by the vast mediatainment system whose sole responsibility is to reproduce the capitalist fantasy: “the world in which the corporate Capital succeeded in penetrating and dominating the very fantasy-kernel of our being: none of our features is really “ours”; even our memories and fantasies are artificially planted. It is as if Fredric Jameson’s thesis on postmodernism as the epoch in which Capital colonizes the last resorts hitherto excluded from its circuit is here brought to its hyperbolic conclusion: the fusion of Capital and Knowledge brings about a new type of proletarian, as it were the absolute proletarian bereft of the last pockets of private resistance; everything, up to the most intimate memories, is planted, so that what remains is now literally the void of pure substanceless subjectivity (substanzlose Subjektivitaet—Marx’s definition of the proletarian).”1

In this sense the supposed sciences that were to produce truth and set us free of our ancient enslavement to religious consciousness and the empirical ego-self etc. through neurosciences, seem bent on migrating into new ideologies and scientific philo-fictions of non-human, posthuman, inhuman, anti-human, transhuman (all vying for the next enslavement or fantasy production of the Real). Just at the moment when capitalism in its old neoliberal form is deteriorating, decaying, and dying before our eyes the beast itself, Capital, is migrating into another fantasy, another world…

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Nicole Cushing: A Sick Gray Laugh

When I started writing this book, I vowed to keep my madness out of it.

—Nicole Cushing,  A Sick Gray Laugh

CaptureNicole Cushing is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of Mr. Suicide and a two-time nominee for the Shirley Jackson Award.

Various reviewers have described her work as “brutal”, “cerebral”, “transgressive”, “taboo”, “groundbreaking” and “mind-bending”.

Rue Morgue magazine recently included Nicole in its list of 13 Wicked Women to Watch, praising her as an “an intense and uncompromising literary voice”. She has also garnered praise from Jack Ketchum, Thomas Ligotti, and Poppy Z. Brite (aka, Billy Martin).

Her second novel, A Sick Gray Laugh, has been released August 27, 2019 by Word Horde. A stand-alone novella, The Half-Freaks (published by Grimscribe Press) will also appear in 2019.

I just started reading Nicole’s latest work and am delighted to say it is well worth the praise it’s garnering so far… I’ll update with a review later this week, but for now you should check out her blog Litggressive for more information about Nicole Cushing and her fabulous work.

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The Inanity of Life

Against the obsession with death, both the subterfuges of hope and the arguments of reason lay down their arms: their insignificance merely whets the appetite to die. In order to triumph over this appetite, there is but one “method”: to live it to the end, to submit to all its pleasures, all its pangs, to do nothing to elude it. An obsession experienced to the point of satiety is annihilated in its own excesses. By dwelling on the infinity of death, thought manages to use it up to inspire disgust for it in us, disgust, that negative superfluity which spares nothing and which, before compromising and diminishing the prestige of death, shows us the inanity of life.

—Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

Imaginative Need: On the Mundus Imaginalis

Or we are shown that the other world may lie close at hand, and we often hover on its brink.

—Mark Valentine, Haunted by Books

The existence of this intermediate world, mundus imaginalis, thus appears metaphysically necessary; the cognitive function of the Imagination is ordered to it; it is a world whose ontological level is above the world of the senses and below the pure intelligible world; it is more immaterial than the former and less immaterial than the latter.

—Henri Corbin

The fabulists all inhabited a separate strangeness where the realms of Arcadia, Atlantis, Avalon, Shangri La, the Astral Plane, the worlds of Faery and the worlds of Dream seemed to describe something just the other side of our drab world… other authors spoke of other realms, darker places where the ruins of reality seemed to multiply into nightmare: Dis, Pandemonium, Agartha, Hel, Hell, Irkallah, Mag Mell, Kyöpelinvuori, Muspelheim, Tartarus and so many other places hidden in the Abyss. Whether of light or darkness all these zones were situated in that intermediate realm in-between the voids, where gods and demons dwelled like blood warriors in an endless war. Our boredom and ennui have driven both our hells and our paradises to the point of extinction. In this age when the human is no longer able to escape itself, no longer able to open those portals between the worlds, we are left with our own musings, our nightmares become all too real in a world where both paradise and hell commingle in a fluid world of non-human and post-human madness in which there is no where to go, no one to know, and no one to be. This pure and absolute world of immanence without escape. A world bereft of its dreams and nightmares alike. Left in a secular world on nihilism in which we have emptied ourselves of the other worlds, what is left for us? As Mark Valentine suggests:

But what of those who make it their work to seek entry into these stranger dimensions more definitely, who demand to go further from here? The authors of wonder are among such visionaries, and sometimes they try to bring back for us some flint-spark from the furthest dimensions, an evocation of what they have found. They may do this in hesitant sentences that can hardly carry the burden of what they must convey, or in sketches of unearthly scenes where the artist’s fingers have faltered at the last, or they may resort to geometric symbols or arcane formulae, which only have any sort of meaning for those who have already seen. Perhaps only one thing is clear: in order to walk in the other worlds, we ourselves must be changed.

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Voices From The Graveyard

Language is the foundation of reality. Without it we would, like the beasts, exist wholly in a world of sensation. We should not be articulate, but cast adrift from the essence of creation, and unable to fathom its infinite depths. And in considering this matter, I cannot refrain from expressing a philosophic speculation that has arisen from out of gazing into that abyss. In what language do the dead converse? Are they freed from the multitude of tongues to which the living are shackled? Do they speak a language (let us call it Txxyollqus) whose meaning contains all possible meanings since their mode of being is outside space and time?

—Collected Works of Thomas De Quincey (“Voices from the Graveyard”)

The Consolations of Horror in the Anthropocene

We do not live, we are lived. What would a philosophy have to be to begin from this, rather than to arrive at it? —Eugene Thacker

I guess by this point I’ve got to my feet and I’m trying to marshal my thoughts to tell him about extinction, about how we’re at the very end of the sixth great extinction to hit this planet, caused by us, by man, by progress, and how speciation will occur after we’re gone, an explosion of new forms springing up to fill all the vacated niches, a transformation like nothing we’ve known since the Cambrian explosion of five hundred seventy million years ago, but he’s not listening. —T. C. Boyle. A Friend of the Earth

Why do people continue to believe in the myth of politics? I assume most of these people still believe in “hope,” as if the world might one day change, that people like the fabled children of some primitive world of Rousseauistic fantasy are all essentially good and if given the opportunity to grow up in the right environment under the right conditions will become optimistic harbingers of the Good Society. Who still believes that?

With the doom and gloom of potential catastrophic climate change, with the slow burn of Amazonia, of the genocides around the world, of wars and rumors of wars, plagues and rumors of pandemics, of asteroids, of … well you get the picture… the future environment is turning and swerving toward a very hostile place indeed. Will the children of Rousseau growing up now in the chaos and catastrophe of our current age of political and social unrest, malfeasance, genocide, immigration blockage, rising fascism and authoritarianism, displaced and erroneous science perpetrated by the rich, powerful, and corporate/political nexus of a pro-right reactionary system …

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Philip Fracassi: Behold The Void – First Thoughts…

 

CaptureStarted reading Philip Fraccasi‘s Behold the Void last night, and have read the first three stories so far. Have to admit these are less than what I’d expected from the hype. I usually refrain from negative critiques so early, and usually not at all; but these three stories seemed both gratuitous and a form of absolute nihilism of the violent kind which left no sense of double-vision. What I mean by double-vision is the notion of a tale that has both a surface (literal) meaning-story, and a hidden or depth-ridden (figural) meaning-allegorical-didactic. Fraccasi’s seem all surface and pulped, leaving no aftermath other than wondering why all the gratuitous violence, and to what purpose. Obviously there is no purpose in a cosmos that is framed in absolute nihilism, where everything is inexplicable and anything can happen because there is no structure, no law, no reason behind anything; only an absolute contingency in which anything is possible, and anything can happen… and, will more than likely turn bad, real bad at any moment.

In the third tale we have a horse thief, Gambino, whose son Luis recently died, and is hired to steal a famed racing horse: the Widowmaker. The tale goes from incident to incident relating Gambino’s sordid existence along the way until he’s confronted by a boy demon in the desert who is the seventh son of a seventh son. Using this folkloric motif from out of nowhere – like some deus ex machina – we follow Gambino till he meets his boss where a Chinaman is waiting to perform some strange and bewildering suicide ritual requiring a fabled horse. Needless to say things go awry and the boss is killed, the Chinaman is killed by the horse, and Gambino is shot by the Chinaman in the gut… I want spoil the ending, but we’re left with a fake transcendence for a character who for all accounts deserves no redemption but gets it anyway. What bothered me in this story is just that: What was the point of this slip-shod redemption which came plotting in like some strange folkloric interpellation from out of nowhere and nowhen, without rhyme or reason? It just didn’t fit, and for me fell flat. Another tale not worth rereading because it had said all it was going to say.

Do I demand more? Am I being too hard on this tale teller? Maybe so, maybe not; either way it’s my aesthetic honesty that has to speak to it, not my personal vetting or feeling. I’ve always tried to be honest about such things with myself, if not always up front with my readers. There is a definite professionalism in Fracassi’s tales, which on the surface are polished and complete; and, yet, there is just something missing, a core geist-spirit, a certain inner sense to the stories that is lost on me. It could be these tales will talk to others, and I’m just not the person they are meant for; that could be. But with all things I tend to go with my gut feelings in all things concerning horror stories, and my affects tell me that these stories are hollow. Sadly this is my judgment, and one I have to accept as what it is for me…

As far as the tales go, Fracassi does have the knack of telling a tale, of hooking you into the ongoing movement of the various events and incidents; and, yet, as you finish the tales you feel this emptiness, a feeling in the gut that says: “Is that it? What was the point of all this carnage? These characters are absolute puppets in a puppet world, written by a puppet for puppets. But to what effect?” It’s as if there should be a punch line that leaves you guessing, but it’s been elided, and in its place is this sense of absolute meaninglessness. Maybe that is the point after all. Maybe Fracassi unlike many horror writers has no message to give us, has no need to entertain and instruct us in some dark hidden secret about life. Maybe he’s giving us everything up front: life has no meaning and is indifferent to our desires as to our intelligence. Behind the cosmos of Fraccassi’s tales is exactly what his collection’s title states: a Void. Pure emptiness without return, a bleak universe of absolute indifference where even human meaning and thought have no affordance, no traction; a realm where thinking is a mere accident in time, a broken promise that will like everything else slowly turn the lights out… forever.

I really wanted to give Fracassi a chance, had planned on finishing the collection – and, I may at some future time, but for the moment with three strikes down I just can’t force myself to continue pretending this is a writer for me. Fracassi may speak to others, but for my money it just has nothing to say at the moment. I’ll also take a peak at his earlier work as well. I wish it was different but at the moment it just doesn’t click and ring the right notes for me. So it goes onto my back burner… and, I’m off to other collections…


You can visit Philip Fracassi on his site: https://pfracassi.com/
Buy his new collection Behold the Void

The Uncanniness of Puppets

For a brief while, let us mull over some items of interest regarding puppets. They are made as they are made by puppet makers and manipulated to behave in certain ways by a puppet master’s will. The puppets under discussion here are those made in our image, though never with such fastidiousness that we would mistake them for human beings. If they were so created, their resemblance to our soft shapes would be a strange and awful thing, too strange and awful, in fact, to be countenanced without alarm. Given that alarming people has little to do with merchandising puppets, they are not created so fastidiously in our image that we would mistake them for human beings, except perhaps in the half-light of a dank cellar or cluttered attic. We need to know that puppets are puppets. Nevertheless, we may still be alarmed by them. Because if we look at a puppet in a certain way, we may sometimes feel it is looking back, not as a human being looks at us but as a puppet does. It may even seem to be on the brink of coming to life. In such moments of mild disorientation, a psychological conflict erupts, a dissonance of perception that sends through our being a convulsion of supernatural horror.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror

With the advent of CGI based animated films we’ve seen a hyperrealism suddenly replace the older hand drawn cartoons of yesteryear. But as many critics suggest this may not be a good thing. In the recent Lion King remake by Disney the characters that were in the first film so emotionally cute and humanized that people were drawn to them as if magnetized by their warmth and cozy appeal, just the opposite has happened with the newer remake which provides a more distant and cold apprehension of these highly stylized and superrealistic figures. In the new film the characters have become too real and uncanny, as if they could walk off the screen into an African savannah and be right at home among the wildlife. As Lindsay Wright suggests:

Indeed, a viewer of the new version of “The Lion King” often admires the artistic sensibilities of the film in the same way that they might admire a new piece of technological wizardry. We may be struck by the emotional beauty of a painting by Leonardo DaVinci, to put it bluntly, but it is unlikely that we will derive the same kind of emotional warmth from a viewing of the latest offering from car manufacturer Tesla.1

As many critics have suggested this hyperreal CGI technology has lost something in translation from the older hand drawn animations.

As Ligotti suggests above: “We need to know that puppets are puppets.” If something is too real we begin to feel a sense of dread and horror, as if the thing we’re watching may be watching us in return. The duplicity between a dead inanimate object suddenly taking on a life of its own disturbs us. Even in animated features the older hand drawn cartoons could never become uncanny in that sense or realism. Yet its just this sense of something that we assume is not real becoming all too real that threatens our sense of a well-ordered cosmos. When things suddenly do things they shouldn’t we begin to think reality is no longer what we thought, that something has change; that the world is not right and has suddenly become topsy-turvy overthrowing all the known laws of physics.

For two hundred years the literature of the fantastic: the modes of Gothic, Grotesque, Macabre, Symbolist, Decadence, Surrealism, Fabulism, Magical Realism, etc. have replaced for a secular society what was once part of the domain of religious consciousness and expectation: the Supernatural. The notion of the marvelous, fantastic, and uncanny have all taken on new meanings in our secular society, allowing non-believers to experience the nostalgia of religious beliefs without adhering to there outmoded rituals and dogmas. As Victoria Nelson in The Secret Life of Puppets reminds us:

Shakespeare’s worldview of the Renaissance-the worldview that holds there is another, invisible world besides this one, that our world of the senses is ruled by this other world through signs and portents, that good and evil are physically embodied in our immediate environment-is alive and well today in science fiction and supernatural horror films that build on a three-hundred-year tradition of the secularized supernatural and behind that on the millennia-old beliefs Western culture shares with older societies around the world.

There’s something deep and pervasive in the human psyche that cannot be expunged, repressed, excised, nor erased: this need for an affective relation to the Unknown. As Lovecraft once suggested: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” He’d go on to elaborate,

Because we remember pain and the menace of death more vividly than pleasure, and because our feelings toward the beneficent aspects of the unknown have from the first been captured and formalised by conventional religious rituals, it has fallen to the lot of the darker and more maleficent side of cosmic mystery to figure chiefly in our popular supernatural folklore. This tendency, too, is naturally enhanced by the fact that uncertainty and danger are always closely allied; thus making any kind of an unknown world a world of peril and evil possibilities. When to this sense of fear and evil the inevitable fascination of wonder and curiosity is superadded, there is born a composite body of keen emotion and imaginative provocation whose vitality must of necessity endure as long as the human race itself. Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse.2

When children play with dolls, or adults watch a Ventriloquist performing there is this sense that we are fascinated by these inanimate objects suddenly awakening in our midst and taking on a life of their own. And, yet, if this were truly to happen as in some horror films with puppets that uncannily do just that and become killers like Chucky in Child’s Play movie in made in 1988. In this film the doll Chucky is a sneering red-haired doll that is possessed by the spirit of a deceased serial killer. Many of the films’ plots revolve around Chucky’s attempts to transfer his soul from the doll body into a living person. A sense of possession and murderous intent, of a doll that becomes all too real and moves without the strings of a puppet master intentionally and with a willful purpose. In our “secular society in which the cult of art has supplanted scripture and direct revelation, we turn to works of the imagination to learn how our living desire to believe in a transcendent reality has survived outside our conscious awareness”.

In our own age various trends in the sciences and engineering are converging to create new forms of advanced intelligence or AI and AGI, and along with that is initiatives to produce lifelike humanoid robots that will allow such advanced intelligence a physical platform within which to move and operate. Uncanny Valley  has been working to build such uncanny systems that seem in appearance and manner to reduplicate human movements and feature sets as if they were not only our doubles but were in some future iteration becoming more us than we are. As one roboticist suggests: “Twenty years from now human-like robots will walk among us, they will help us, play with us, teach us, help us put groceries away,” says David Hanson, “I think AI will evolve to a point where they will truly be our friends.”

One philosopher, Reza Negarestani asks the question: “Should we limit the model of AGI—both from a methodological perspective and a conceptual perspective that is the hermeneutics of general intelligence—to mirroring capacities and abilities of the human subject?” His answer is an emphatic “No”:

In limiting the model of AGI to the replication of necessary conditions and capacities required for the realization of human cognitive and practical abilities, we risk to reproduce or preserve those features and characteristics of human experience that are purely local and contingent. We therefore risk falling back on a parochial picture of the human as a model of AGI that we set out to escape.4

Instead what he seeks is a new path forward, one that allows for the “realization of an intelligence that moves from a particular contingent perspectival consciousness to a genuine self-consciousness, an outside view of itself” (22).

For many this sudden awakening of machinic life with intelligence that can be self-motivated, and non-human or inhuman in the sense of not being modeled on our human cognitive and affective relations is both scary and fascinating. For thousands of years humans have been both fascinated and fearful of statues, dolls, puppets, and machines that could reduplicate human abilities and work, but the notion of an entity that can also begin to exist beyond our human modes of intelligence and emotion seems almost too much to think much less comprehend. This is where both aspects of the fantastic: Science Fiction and Horror come into play, each in its own way confronts such possibilities as both impossible and unknown; and, yet, brings to life the very real possibility that such strange and uncanny beings may one day live among us. Horror allows us to register our fears and fascinations in ways that allow us to understand these emotions at a distance and through fictional scenarios of imaginative apprehension rather in the very real and literal confrontation of an actual face to face meeting with this monstrous other/alterity. It’s this aesthetic horror that allows us to shape our fears into something we can as humans handle, and begin to accept the possibility of knowing and realizing what was and is Unreal taking shape before our very eyes. For as Ligotti says:

Because if we look at a puppet in a certain way, we may sometimes feel it is looking back, not as a human being looks at us but as a puppet does. It may even seem to be on the brink of coming to life.


  1. Wright, Lindsay. ‘The Lion King’ Remake Brings Iconic Characters to Life. Tech Geeked July 19, 2019 https://techgeeked.com/the-lion-king-remake-brings-iconic-characters-to-life/
  2.  Lovecraft, H.P.. Supernatural Horror in Literature. Online: http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/essays/shil.aspx
  3.  Nelson, Victoria. The Secret Life of Puppets. Harvard University Press (November 1, 2003)
  4.  Negarestani, Reza. An Outside View of Ourselves as a Toy Model AGI. Intelligence and Spirit: https://www.urbanomic.com/book/intelligence-and-spirit/

Matt Cardin: Master of the Fantastic

The Fantastic is one of the most significant genres because it tells us the most about the inner life of the individual and about collectively held symbols. As it relates to our sensibility today, the supernatural element at the heart of these stories always appears freighted with meaning, like the revolt of the unconscious, the repressed, the forgotten, all that is distanced from our rational attention. In this we see the modern dimension of the fantastic, the reason for its triumphant resurgence in our times.

—Italo Calvino, Fantastic Tales

CaptureI just finished Matt Cardin’s new collection To Rouse Leviathan, and I must say it was thoroughly enjoyable in a dreadful way; by that I mean it filled me with that weird and eerie anxiety that I find is the supreme mood of the fantastic. Reading Cardin is like moving toward a visionary moment of clarity and then realizing that one’s eyes are askew: twisted and deformed our eyes are crossed between the inner vision of some vast infernal nightmare land of the impossible, and outward toward the enfolded nightmare of our actual world of loss and pain. Many feel that  yearning and longing for an end to the quest for an answer to life’s meaning; most end up like our current cultural malaise has in a valueless cesspool of non-meaning and nihilism. For Cardin what we’re missing is a spiritual vision, a vision that supports both imagination and the artistic impulse; such is the quest undertaken in every tale in these volumes, a movement toward some indefinable landscape of divine ecstasy or ecstatic horror; or the exposed fragments of some forgotten labyrinth of religious or spiritual dark enlightenment. An enlightenment into horror, where the daemonic splendor of existence which exists just outside the registers of our blinkered and rational visions leads us into a multidimensional realm of our darkest transports; a realm in which our joys and fears come alive and absorb us into that dream of the Outside where paradox, incongruity, and uncertainty unbound exist without end or justification.

If you love the mixture of the sublime and ridiculous that pushes the limits of both modes to their logical conclusions then you’ll love Matt Cardin’s omnibus of all his previous stories. He touches that dark space of our American psyche with its love/hate relations to the religious consciousness. Most of the stories are filled with various troubled misfits and rejects of a religious persuasion whose yearnings for some kind of mutant transformation or transfiguration lead them into the pit of hell or some strange and fantastic infernal paradise.

I was reminded of Thomas Ligotti’s macabre relishing of the grotesque sublime and yearning for ruins, sewers, corruption, and the dark pessimism of annihilation, cannibalism, and extreme surrealism in the mode of Bataille’s notions of the unreal and impossible. All I can say is that each story takes on new aspects of the old tropes of horror fiction and renews them with a refined sensibility and elegance that tempts one to realize Cardin knows the tradition inside/out, and yet is able to let it speak out without a heavy handed touch like so many of the last generations postmodern metafictionists did. This is a self-conscious horror that does not show its hand, but like a great street magician carefully directs your attention away from the center of the magic trick; a trick that allows the reader her own thrill in discovering sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph the elements of a metaphysics that does not hammer you into extinction, but like those old masters of the essay – think of Montaigne – weave both an intelligent story with an essayistic discretion to both entertain and instruct the reader in the dark truths being portrayed.

In the end Cardin’s tales do not so much answer those deepest yearnings of our disquieted souls as challenge us to enter into that strange compact that all authors and readers share: a compact that shifts us into our own creative and imaginative modes of being, awaken in us a psychic need and ontic poverty, leaving us with the dark aura of loss and light of nihil that encloses us in our own nightmare lands of fear and dread. Cardin’s tales lure and goad us onward toward our own transgressive visions and quests, force us to once again acquaint ourselves with the dark tremors just below the submerged threshold of our own fears. And, yet, like all great artists of the fantastic and weird Cardin’s tales leave us spent and vacuous: depleted, destitute and spiritually exhausted within the catastrophic aftermath of his visions forlornness.

His tales are never-ending portals to a sea of strangeness we all feel is submerged in the Real surrounding us on all sides. And if we just knew how to tap into it, gain access to it we would suddenly realize the thing we’ve been missing our whole lives; that impossible object we’ve been seeking to fill that empty place of imaginative need.  These are tales we will repeatedly return to again and again, seeking in them a more in depth connection to that something hiding in plain site, but just barely visible to our skewed vision; for what we all seek in such tales is an ineffable mystery,  a dark presage of all we are and could be if only we might open ourselves to the nightmare worlds we deserve.


You can find Matt Cardin on his blog Teeming Brain  and buy his new collection here!

Why horror?

Why horror?

Because it speaks to the messiness of actual humans living their lives in a world that seems bent on self-destruction in religion, politics, war, and any number of other unknown or known possibles from natural or man-made events. People are surrounded by fears of unknowns that could come right into their home towns, their homes, their minds… people are surrounded by a world on the brink of climate catastrophe, while their politicians play right-wing/left-wing grandiose mediatainment bullshit that does nothing to alleviate real suffering, misery, and pain in people’s actual lives. The migration of tens of thousands of people in the past few years will only become more real as climate change drives people toward cooler climes; or, from the degradation of war torn tyrants and dictators. All the racist, gender, and socio-cultural issues seem to be widening and turning us against each other as if some displaced world of sacrifice and blood sport were afoot in these late times.  We are living in fear with fear every second of our lives… we are in a living horror novel that writes itself anew everyday. So that horror writers don’t need to come up with anything new to write about: it’s already too much with us… what the best horror writers do now for us is give us the tools to face and live with these fears, work through all the various affective relations that haunt us in our daily lives and fill us with real dread. Horror stories are like little models of this actual world in bite size chunks helping us to see what we are facing with the help of an intelligent friend to guide us through it like Virgil to Dante… this is what horror is doing now! It’s our survival boat… to daily living with fear!

My latest story “The Labyrinth of Night” in #46 of The Sirens Call Ezine!

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My latest story The Labyrinth of Night in #46 of The Sirens Call get your (free) copy today!

http://www.sirenscallpublications.com/

A little sample –

No one knows when they built the Labyrinth of Night. Some say it has always been here, but that no one knew of its existence because the time was not right; people were not ready to receive its mysteries, its secrets. Others say that the labyrinth is always and everywhere and only for the few – a small elite, those tormented souls who seek eternal solace in the dark and lonely nights of oblivion; that seek the secretive ways of the abyss that are neither a part of time nor a part of space, but rather of that unreal zone of integral obscurity and rotten sentience. These wanderers of a forlorn thought, miscreants of perversity, would rather follow the patterns of this ruinous desire than meet the physical needs of its tenants; knowers of the labyrinth, caterers of those delicate strains of the hidden art of pain: tempters, alluring an abject art: a lost art of despair, debauches of cruelty and insanity; transgressors, excessive militants and renegades of the lost infernal paradise beyond the margins of existence. Miserabilists – all, each and every one, – locked away, solitaire, bound to an infinite void of nullity and self-derision; willing accomplices to the unraveling of all things: the unweaving of stars and worlds and bleakness itself; creatures of absolute nihil unbound.

—S.C. Hickman, The Labyrinth of Night

Writer’s block?

What? Writer’s block? I don’t have time… sorry… Just do it… I get up every morning and put out gibberish, then crazy stuff, then poetry, then hack crap, then a good sentence… then I say: “Okay, let’s start with that!” Follow that good sentence to the moon; no finger pointing Zen allowed… just a shit load of work: never ending work… and tired fingers… well… and being a little insane helps too!!!

Subtraction

If only it were that easy.
The slow erasure, subtraction:
Layer by layer, the onion of the cosmos
Peeled back from skin to kernel,
Till all that is left is a knot of nothingness.

But would this truly get at that inhuman core?

What if we know too much,
The very horror of consciousness itself
Being the thing that we cannot subtract, only minimize;
Isolating those delicate illusions that keep us confined,
Anchoring us to those well used tropes, fictions;
Distracting us with their promise of entertainment;
Till we carefully peruse the latest seduction
As if it were a sublime necessity, a calculated effort.

Would we be able to subtract ourselves from such blind worlds?

If I could subtract this very sentence, this thought, this life…
What would that accomplish? Am I a tissue of light,
Words on the screen of night; syllables of some forgotten language of the Mind?


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Because They Can: The Horror of the Sciences

Kristine Ong Muslim in her short story collection Age of Blight has a grouping of tales dealing with both academia and the sciences in which the blind and detached use of animals all in the name of discovery (i.e., seeking to understand various medical, psychological, and other aspects of the human through experimentation with animals, etc.) leads to forms of inhumane torture. Not only that but many of the experimenters in their supposed objective distancing and non-emotional interventions become de-sensitized to the point of sociopathic and psychopathic degradation. In one of her tales she describes a particular scientist Harry F. Harlow (who actually existed!), who (let me quote at length from WIKI):

Harlow’s experiments were controversial; they included creating inanimate surrogate mothers for the rhesus infants from wire and wool. Each infant became attached to its particular mother, recognizing its unique face and preferring it above others. Harlow next chose to investigate if the infants had a preference for bare-wire mothers or cloth-covered mothers. For this experiment, he presented the infants with a clothed “mother” and a wire “mother” under two conditions. In one situation, the wire mother held a bottle with food, and the cloth mother held no food. In the other situation, the cloth mother held the bottle, and the wire mother had nothing. Also later in his career, he cultivated infant monkeys in isolation chambers for up to 24 months, from which they emerged intensely disturbed. Some researchers cite the experiments as a factor in the rise of the animal liberation movement in the United States.

After describing some of the horrific experiments performed on rhesus monkeys the narrator says,

Sometimes, when I lay awake at night watching the motion-regulated light fixtures strewn across the ceiling, I imagine how it must have been for Harry’s monkeys. I am shaped into what is supposed to be a cold and unfeeling contraption, but I realized a long time ago that I have limits: I cannot stomach torture. Torture, for me, has always been the resort of the weak, the inept, the ill-equipped. What torturers do not understand, they simplify by disassembling, by destroying the very essence and mystery of what they are trying to comprehend. What they covet, they steal and tinker with until it bores them or they discover that the tampered thing cannot be put back together again. And what they cannot subjugate, they maim— for no other reason but because they can.1

To have that kind of power bestowed on a person by an institution, academic or governmental is to revert to those impersonal and sadistic chambers of horror wherein humans became both victims and experiments in the Nazi-Fascist concentration camps (i.e., Josef Mengele). The fine line between allowing animals to be abused by such men, and that of humans is not one of morality, but of the very truth of science and politics. There are those among us that have such tendencies, and use them to hide their perverted proclivities behind the mask of war, medicine, and politics. In an age of authoritarian control are we not ripe for such invasive creatures to move toward such ends in a time when posthuman, transhuman, and inhuman philosophies open the doors to such strange worlds?


  1. Kristine Ong Muslim. Age of Blight. The Unnamed Press (January 12, 2016).