The Self-Destructive World We Live In

Capture

Today I was reading about the millions of people in Xinjiang China who have been imprisoned in supposed reeducation camps, which are actually Gulags as one woman who escaped one such prison relates:

“I will never forget the camp,” Sauytbay says. “I cannot forget the eyes of the prisoners, expecting me to do something for them. They are innocent. I have to tell their story, to tell about the darkness they are in, about their suffering. The world must find a solution so that my people can live in peace. The democratic governments must do all they can to make China stop doing what it is doing in Xinjiang.”

If an Alien from another world were to wander our earth and see the darkness within humanity – the inhumanity of humans: the political corruption; the religious manias; the broken ruins of capitalism, communism, and all other economic ism’s; and the sheer blind stupidity of humans becoming barbarians, I wonder what its alien thoughts would entail? I used to think the first half of the 20th Century was the worst period in human history, but I’m beginning to believe we haven’t seen nothing yet… our planet is entering an irrational zone of hate, corruption, tyranny, and malevolence unseen and unthought in past history. For one dark aspect of our present century is its knowledge of both the neurosciences and addiction, along with the implications and use of such knowledge as genetics to produce an invasive and terroristic horror of absolute degradation of the human in the decades to come.

I know I’m inclined to pessimism, but even a blind man could see the decadence of the West with the collapse of human reason in EU and the U.S.A., along with the prevalence of tyranny in most of the post-Communist nations and their allies; the degradation and corruption in UK (BREXIT), and America (Trump).

I keep asking one question: Why are we doing this to ourselves? Why is humanity bent on self-destruction and ruination? Will we ever live at peace on this planet? What in our nature is born with such self-destructive self-hate to produce such dark visions that trap people in this world of death.

 

Tom Kromer: Forgotten Depression Era Writers

CaptureTom Kromer wrote one novel (Waiting For Nothing) and several stories and reviews about depression era life. Considered a proletarian or working-class writer his prose took on that Hard-Boiled stance of the tough-guy façade, and yet underneath was a man who felt more than other men the dark portent of his country’s nightmare of poverty and degradation as a vagabond and hobo wandering from city to city in search of jobs and food.

I’ve been rereading a selection that includes his only novel (Waiting For Nothing), and a few stories and reviews. The novel depicts with searing realism life on the bum in the 1930s and, with greater detachment, the powerless frustration of working-class people often too locked in to know their predicament. Waiting for Nothing, Kromer’s only completed novel, is largely autobiographical and was written at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in California. It tells the story of one man drifting through America, east coast to west, main stem to side street, endlessly searching for “three hots and a flop”―food and a place to sleep. Kromer scans, in first-person voice, the scattered events, the stultifying sameness, of “life on the vag”―the encounters with cops, the window panes that separate hunger and a “feed,” the bartering with prostitutes and homosexuals.

You get a taste of his style from the opening paragraph of Waiting For Nothing:

IT is NIGHT. I am walking along this dark street, when my foot hits a stick. I reach down and pick it up. I finger it. It is a good stick, a heavy stick. One sock from it would lay a man out. It wouldn’t kill him, but it would lay him out. I plan. Hit him where the crease is in his hat, hard, I tell myself, but not too hard. I do not want his head to hit the concrete. It might kill him. I do not want to kill him. I will catch him as he falls. I can frisk him in a minute. I will pull him over in the shadows and walk off. I will not run. I will walk.

I turn down a side street. This is a better street. There are fewer houses along this street. There are large trees on both sides of it. I crouch behind one of these. It is dark here. The shadows hide me. I wait. Five, ten minutes, I wait. Then under an arc light a block away a man comes walking. He is a well-dressed man. I can tell even from that distance. I have good eyes. This guy will be in the dough. He walks with his head up and a jaunty step. A stiff does not walk like that. A stiff shuffles with tired feet, his head huddled in his coat collar. This guy is in the dough. I can tell that. I clutch my stick tighter. I notice that I am calm. I am not scared. I am calm. In the crease of his hat, I tell myself. Not too hard. Just hard enough. On he comes. I slink farther back in the shadows. I press closer against this tree. I hear his footsteps thud on the concrete walk. I raise my arm high. I must swing hard. I poise myself. He crosses in front of me. Now is my chance. Bring it down hard, I tell myself, but not too hard. He is under my arm. He is right under my arm, but my stick does not come down. Something has happened to me. I am sick in the stomach. I have lost my nerve. Christ, I have lost my nerve. I am shaking all over. Sweat stands out on my forehead. I can feel the clamminess of it in the cold, damp night. This will not do. This will not do. I’ve got to get me something to eat. I am starved.

Like many others who traveled the rails, worked odd-jobs, went hungry, did what they had to do to survive, Tom’s novel chronicles this dark period of desperation. As I think about the future, of the broken promises of our leaders, of the way the world is heading into a dark time again I return to the men and women who wrote of despair and noirish necessity in other eras of poverty and degradation. Tom’s work doesn’t pull any strings, it doesn’t put a rosy tint of the world, but rather puts it out there as he lived it and saw it under little illusion. Maybe we need such works to remind us what may one day be upon us sooner than we’d like.

Kromer himself came from a classic proletarian background; his family life is similar to that of Larry Donovan, the proletarian hero of Jack Conroy’s The Disinherited. Yet Kromer’s ideas are essentially apolitical. His narrator has dropped below the worker class to the lumpenproletariat, the horrifying world of stiffs and bos. The book, however, does have its leftist spokesmen—Karl, a writer, and Werner, an artist. Because their work captures the pain and suffering of life on the stem, it is unacceptable to the general public.

Cut off from any feeling of connection with the masses and relying instead on his individual know-how to survive, the narrator rejects this vision of a better future: “I am tired of such talk as this. You can stop a revolution of stiffs with a sack of toppin’s. I have seen one bull kick a hundred stiffs off a drag. When a stiff’s gut is empty, he hasn’t got the guts to start anything. When his gut is full, he just doesn’t see any use in raising hell.” Kromer has captured perfectly the whining, whipped-dog tone of the down-and-out vagrant. These stiffs are no threat to property or the social order; they have no politics, no ideology. All they care about is a decent feed and place to sleep.

As James West III states,

We must be careful to distinguish between Tom Kromer, the author of Waiting for Nothing, and “Kromer the narrator of the book. In the act of writing this account, author Tom Kromer betrays his hope that the inhuman situation he describes can be corrected. His book functions, on its most obvious level, as an account of life in extremis. Kromer seems to believe that once people are shown degradation and injustice, they will do something to help. It is also important to draw a distinction between “Kromer,” the narrator, and the majority of the vagrants he encounters. In Waiting for Nothing we see this narrator’s strong fellow feeling prevent him from bludgeoning an innocent passerby, from robbing a bank, and even from performing the “dummy chunker,” a scam that preys only on people’s feelings. The narrator has chosen to show us incidents where he has, in a sense, failed. By emphasizing these failures, Tom Kromer has transformed what could have been a documentary of skid-row life into an artistic creation that traces a personal struggle to preserve human virtues and emotions in the face of a brutal and dehumanizing reality. (284)


You can find Waiting For Nothing and Other Stories: here…

The Toy Philosopher

Wittgenstein’s idea that philosophy is something like a disease and the job of the philosopher is to study philosophy as the physician studies malaria, not to pass it on but rather to cure people of it. —Susan Sontag

The connoisseur of horror realizes that there is nothing to say, nothing to do, nothing to be; knowing that everything that could possibly be thought has already entered that stage of utter obsolescence in which thinking has become a desperate attempt to think about thinking. What happens when there is no longer anything to think, when thought and concept have begun circling in the bowels of philosophical presumption rather than abstraction? Philosophers today bewail the end of philosophy as if it were some grand tradition they must by every means necessary be upheld as the last bastion of sanity. But what if this in itself is already to be outside the very limits of philosophical thinking and thought; a gesture within a gesture demarcating the lines between philosophy proper and its non-philosophical gestures of flight and fear. Has philosophy become a toy in the hands of machinic algorithms; a sort of endless game of accelerating complexity whose only goal is to produce superintelligence devoid of the human factor of irrational monstrousness.

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The Horror of Thought

One always perishes by the self one assumes: to bear a name is to claim an exact mode of collapse.
—E.M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist

Sometimes I wonder why some people seem frantic if their alone. I love it. A sense of solitude pervades my life in some sense, even as active as I am with various media interactions. Friendships online seem irreal in many ways, because of the very media itself being more of a barrier; this sense that one is not in the presence of the Other’s physical body, but rather always and only in contact with their public mask and shared presence through the medium of words or images. Friendship truly does need presence, needs that assurance of contact through the body rather than words or images. And, yet, a person like me enjoys not being always in attendance, not having to deal with the peculiarities of emotion and turmoil that accompany close proximity with others. A sense of isolation and solitude can at times be liberating for many of us. Yet, for others it can be panic ridden and full of anxiety. Why? Why are some people perfectly happy to be alone without being lonely, and others when alone suddenly enter panic mode and become frantic and almost insane unless they have someone around them to talk to, or some kind of contact whether through watching TV, listening to music, or some other diversion to keep their mind off the feeling of loneliness and aloneness.

All of us awaken sooner or later to the patter of the mind in it’s endless chatterbox of voices. It’s this internal monologue that seems to be the most difficult thing in the world to stop; and, yet, its this stopping of the internal voices that arise ceaselessly voicing doubts, fears; loves, hates, etc. that for many people become the central issue of being alone. People that can’t stand to be alone are usually exasperated with that internal monologue of voice that they have no control over, and that if left to go on and on drives them batty. We know that many of the supposed meditation techniques that have come down from various traditions were centered on just that: stopping this internal world of voices and chatterbox noise. To empty one’s mind of that unceasing chatter is bliss. To realize this emptiness without voice or image is to know silence and a certain kind of peace. To be empty is to know that the Self is this absolute awareness without sense or presence. To know what it means to be alone with the alone. This is not some mystical crapology, rather it’s a very visceral and material knowledge of a body disencumbered of the mind’s endless messiness.

Yet, like everything such moments of silence are temporary and rare. For the moment you allow a thought to arise out of that void again you are lost, the voices start up again and the endless chattering of ideas and images reemerge from elsewhere… that’s the moment one realizes that one’s thoughts are not one’s own but come out of the void and vanish back into that endless flow, the unceasing and incessant realm of chatter that will not stop. Thought is a horror from which there is no reprieve…

Rereading all of David Goodis of late…

“You know me. Guys like me come a dime a dozen. No fire. No backbone. Dead weight waiting to be pulled around and taken to places where we want to go but can’t go alone. Because we’re afraid to go alone. Because we’re afraid to be alone. Because we can’t face people and we can’t talk to people. Because we don’t know how. Because we can’t handle life and don’t know the first thing about taking a bite out of life. Because we’re afraid and we don’t know what we’re afraid of and still we’re afraid. Guys like me.”
― David Goodis, Dark Passage

Rereading all of David Goodis of late has been a worthwhile exercise. Goodis for the most part has one nightmare that pervades every story he ever wrote: something is wrong with the world; it’s out of kilt, malevolent, and will in the end take us all down that dark road into an abyss from which there is no reprieve; no salvation or redemption. Some of his protagonists pursue this nightmare every which way with a courage of hopelessness that they just might evade this dark truth long enough to enjoy life if only for a day, a month, a year; or, at best a temporary stay of execution. His works were of the working class outsiders, the women and men who were under no illusion that they might ever crawl out of their mean streets and into some grand illusion of fame and riches. For these the American Dream of rags to riches was more of a rage to murder and annihilation. No, even his criminals knew that much; knew that fate (whatever you want to term it) was bent against them; and, yet, like doomed lovers dancing on a summer night in quest of an impossible prize they knew in the back of their minds that all that would come their way was a choice: die willingly, or allow the decay of life to erode what little sanity was left to the point one could no longer make even that choice.

Bleak? Pessimistic? Fatalist? Maybe. Or maybe just seeing too much, too long, too well.

Death’s Banker

Maybe we’re all losers; failures. A kid comes around and tells us the truth; tells us we’re stealing the future from her and her generation; tells us we’re the morons that have obliterated their hopes and dreams. Sometimes I think our history is just one long entropic nightmare; we’ve been sucking up energy from the earth for tens of thousands of years, and as we use up all that concentrated bit of sunlight we begin that long process of dissipation, entropic cascade into the debtors bank of non-return. History is just one long entropic bankruptcy in which humans have almost used up all the energy in the bank of earth’s resource department; and now the bill is coming due. But whose going to pay the bill? Can it be paid? Or will we come to the realization that our bankers want only one thing from us: our lives as a species. Death is the banker and he’s ready to call up the note on Life’s last dream…

Nathan Ballingrud: The Maw

“Carlos had never married; he’d become so acclimated to his loneliness that eventually the very idea of human companionship just made him antsy and tired.”
– Nathan Ballingrud: The Maw

Ever thought about the apocalypse after the fact? Ever thought about a zone of strangeness where malformed creatures stalk the world stitching together death in twisted combinations that only a demented follower of Josef Mengele could appreciate? Welcome to the Hollow – a zone of uninhabitable chaos, a fragmented nightmare located on the edge of nothingness and delirium. A place where street cleaners wander the back alleys with wheelbarrows filled with parts of the unmentionable dead, and inhuman surgeons eight-foot tall sew impossible flesh to the nightmares of sad lullabies from hell . Here we meet an old man and his guide, Mix “a girl with a shaved head, dressed in a dark blue hoodie and jeans,” with a sharp cynical mind and a cold heart whose bravado is more survival mechanism than the harsh truth of her deeper fears of being human.

This is a tale of love and loss, of the misery and the pain of existence, of the beauty of sound and the call from the darkness of absolute loneliness. It’s the story of an old man and a dog whose only reason for being a sense of obstinate need; a love that is already in itself a betrayal. At the heart of it the tale is a young girl’s need to decide once and for all if she will remain human and care, or will she give in and cross over to the dark side of inhuman indifference as absolute as the universe itself. In the end what brings them all together is a “sound coming through that great, open throat in the ground, barely heard but thrumming in her blood, had called it here. She felt it like a density in the air, a gravity in the heart. She felt it in the way the earth called her to itself, with its promise of loam and worms, so that she sat down too, beside them but apart, unwelcome in their reunion.”

Some think we’re beyond redemption, while others still manifest the bullheaded pride of the old guard as if it were another country. Ballingrud seems to tap into this anxiety like a master marksman whose keen eyes know just where the target is but is subtle enough to take it slow and methodical rather than full-amped. Reading The Maw is like moving through a nightmare land on steroids knowing full well that the its a suicide mission, and yet it is the only thing one can do; for in the end we are all called out of the silence by the dark transports of our own hidden desires for the unknown. Even if it takes a shaggy old dog to spur us to action.

Read my earlier review on Nathan Ballingrud: Southern Gothic Horror


You can read the Maw in the latest issue of John Joseph Adams’s Nightmare Magazine, Issue 85 (October 2019)

The Impossible Task

In one of his interviews Thomas Ligotti speaks of non-horror writer’s that influenced him to the point of reading everything by the author, as well as every secondary work related to them (i.e., biographical, critical, reviews, etc.).

Ligotti: “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.”

Being the thorough researcher I am (almost to a point of insanity!), I’ve been working through this list realizing that it’s an impossible task… or, at least at my age (68) it would now take too long to complete such a task (hundreds of works and resources!). Admitting defeat and failure in this area is no cause for concern to me anymore, realizing that my work-in-progress of Appreciation (in the Pater/Wilde sense of that term!) is but an opening gambit in what I hope to accomplish: and that is just to further people’s understanding and interest in Ligotti and other horror works. If I accomplish that, along with reaching a wider audience of both avid fans and newcomers my task will be accomplished. It will await actual academic scholars or other mainstream critics to complete the task and fill in the full aesthetic and philosophical implications of Ligotti’s oeuvre.

On Suicide

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the
Snow – First – Chill – then Stupor –
then the letting go –

—Emily Dickinson

One can study this notion for a lifetime, and many have, without ever coming to a conclusion other than a personal one. Yet, I’ve often thought of that, too. After two thousand years of Christian civilization in which suicide was both condemned and outlawed, and now for two hundred years where the secular authorities no longer outlaw it but have condemned it to the couch of psychoanalysts everywhere as a mental disorder one realizes that we’re still under the shadow of ancient codes of theological bullshit.

I dream of an age of forgetfulness, an age when once again one can celebrate the going out of existence as much as we celebrate its birth in children arising out of the womb. The ancient Celts used to hold joyous celebrations and wakes in the memory of the departed, recounting their lives and deeds with family, friends, and acquaintances in a joyful send off rather than some dark and foreboding affair of tears.

Even as a pessimist who sees birth and death as equally aspects of something that should not be, I still find the notion of celebration rather than some false sense of Christian or Secular tearfest to be both more beneficial and given over to the act of deliberate freedom and uncreation. Having suicide become just as much a part of the social mix of celebration seems only fitting in a world that for too long has both condemned and outlawed this one act of defiance and freedom against the laws of God and Man.

How many here would rather such a fitting end—celebrating one’s life, while realizing that the body’s suffering and torment should finally be spared and divested; all the while preparing for such a departure not in horror and tears, but in laughter and shared joy? I’ll bet that most people even if they were raised secular would still see this as a bit strange. But why? Why wouldn’t the celebration of freedom as an act of self-divestiture of suffering and pain be condemned rather than celebrated? Why is our culture so blatantly shame based that to look on death and suicide as an act either against some false theological order, or as some kind of disease of the mind in a secular order be any better.

Will we ever create a third order, a new world view in which birth and death are both celebrated as festivals of mutation, transformation, and metamorphosis? Or will be we be condemned to this dark religion or secular shame forever?

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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On Whiskey Devil by Christian Galacar…

Capture
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/

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

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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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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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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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 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/

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!

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!!!

Two tendencies in critical horror…


Matt Cardin in his essay on Ligotti makes mention of the diametric appraisal of H.P. Lovecraft’s early and late work, Ligotti favoring the early unreal and more fantastic tales while Joshi favors the documentary realism of the later Chthulu and other tales:

“The upshot of the matter, generally speaking, is that Ligotti thinks Lovecraft was at his worst in the very stories where Joshi thinks he was at his best.”
– The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets: The Influence of H.P. Lovecraft on Thomas Ligotti

As much as I admire S.T. Joshi for his years of dedication in reviving interest in Lovecraft, and critical/biographical studies on other major horror writers, there’s always seemed a pervasive adherence in his work to a strict secular and atheistic aesthetic; an almost dogmatic, vision and judgment concerning various authors in some hierarchy and ranking system that just doesn’t seem part of the traditional literature of criticism from Dr. Johnson to Harold Bloom. His economical expression and the overarching need to filter the more unreal and fantastical elements through his Enlightenment gaze seems to have left certain aspects of this tradition in a state of invisibility. I’ll have to say I agree with Ligotti that it is in the early tales that Lovecraft’s work shines, allows the drifts from the Outside to seep in unhinged by any filters of Reason and strict economy of ethical evaluation. But as in all things maybe the divine Oscar Wilde in his usual witty tone is correct:

“Two men look out a window. One sees mud, the other sees the stars.” ~ Oscar Wilde

The Challenge of Horror: The Fragility of Existence

 

“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.”1

Flannery O’Connor was neither subtle nor officious in her statements regarding literature, instead she said plainly and with acumen exactly what she felt about the deep seated beliefs she held regarding both writing and her faith. In many ways this is the challenge that horror writers face in our time. Most readers are complacently satisfied in their own opinions about life, assuming an optimistic cast of mind that if we work hard enough, do the right things, keep our nose clean, vote for the right leader, protest against the powerful and rich and ugly forces that seek to control us, make the right friends, teach our children the right ethics, go out for an evening or holiday, take in a movie or some other diversion of entertainment, etc. that somehow, someway things in the end will turn out for the best. That after all we live in the best of all possible worlds, right? Wrong.

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Articulating the Impossible: Horror as Communication


David Peak in his small book The Spectacle of the Void situates horror tales as the “organization of human self-deception” in its most extreme form, and that it arose within literature because of our human lack of communicability. This inability to communicate fear and the unknown has according to Peak taken two forms:

1) “the narrative of the person with something to say that cannot be said (an inarticulate lucidity)”; and 2) “the narrative of the person who is able to articulate their thoughts and feelings but still unable to make sense of their reality (an articulate confusion)”. (p. 12)

When confronted by the horrific the experiences of nausea, sickness, pain, anguish are among the range of extreme states that concern such inexplicable and undefinable moments precisely to the degree that they are uncontrollable, in so far as they shatter the composed rationality of the isolated individual and leave her fully aware of what has happened but unable to speak it or utter it in any articulate way; else leaving her dumbfounded yet knowledgeable but unable to decode the very irrational context she has suffered in a reasonable manner. In this way, such experiences open on to a mode of communication that exceeds language. Communication, the extreme thinker of horror Georges Bataille once suggested, requires ‘a being suspended in the beyond of oneself, at the limit of nothingness’. (Theory of Religion)

Bataille theorized that we have developed two forms of communication: that which ‘links’ humans through gesture, utterance, laughter, tears, etc.; and that which links humans to death and the impossible (i.e., horror, the unknown). As Bataille would say in his book Inner Experience:

“Anguish is no less than intelligence the means for knowing, and the extreme limit of the ‘possible’, in other respects, is no less life than knowledge. Communication still is, like anguish, to live and to know. The extreme limit of the ‘possible’ assumes laughter, ecstasy, terrified approach towards death; assumes error, nausea, unceasing agitation of the ‘possible’ and the impossible and, to conclude – broken, nevertheless, by degrees, slowly desired – the state of supplication, its absorption into despair.” 2

Communication as a form of supplication*, a humble request or appeasement to quiet, soothe, assuage the pain and suffering of the felt horror that is neither fully articulable or mastered by the reasoning powers of the mind.


*from Old French suplicacion “humble request,” from Latin supplicationem (nominative supplicatio) “a public prayer, thanksgiving day,” noun of action from past participle stem of supplicare “to beg humbly” (in Old Latin as sub vos placo, “I entreat you”), from sub “under” (see sub-) + placare “to calm, appease, quiet, soothe, assuage,” causative of placere “to please” (see please). In ancient Rome, a religious solemnity, especially in thanksgiving for a victory or in times of public danger.


  1. Peak, David. The Spectacle of the Void. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (December 1, 2014)
  2. Bataille, Georges. Inner Experience. SUNY Press (September 1, 2014)

The Truth of Horror

At this point it may seem that the consolations of horror are not what we thought they were, that all this time we’ve been keeping company with illusions. Well, we have.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Consolations of Horror

The more I read contemporary horror the more I realize just how terrible our world truly is, all the fragmented lives, the sorrow, the pain, the stupidity of being alive. Most of these people you meet in many horror stories are just regular people, neither smart nor dumb, just people on the edge of life presented with traumatic events that just don’t make sense. And, that’s the problem, people need to believe that things make sense, that their lives are not just a bundle of impressions, insoluble riddles.

People want to believe their lives matter, and when they realize that nothing matters; not their life, not their work, not their families… it just turns them dark and sad wanting it all to go away. It always comes down to “Why me?” Before our age they’d of said: “Why me, Lord? Why’d you let this happen?” and they could have a crutch upon which to hang their sorrow, someone bigger and stronger than themselves to lean on and help them understand just why everything had gone to hell in a handbasket like some head toppling out of a guillotine. But there is no more God to lean on in our time, no big boy up there on the other side of things looking down with kind eyes and gentle whispers telling you it’s all goin’ to be alright.

No. Now you’re all alone. Nobody there to comfort you in the midst of all this darkness. Just your own misery and sorrow that want go away… it’s what people call despair, futility, the bittersweet truth of this life. No answer. Nothing. Just a empty world full of empty people living in an empty universe whose absolute indifference as to your pain and suffering is one of absolute silence. That’s why horror now is absolute, it leaves you alone with the alone; no place to turn, no one to know, no place to go, and nothing to do but nothing.

Horror isn’t there to comfort you or entertain you, nor is it there to give you the answer to your deepest question. All horror can do is open your eyes, open your ears, open your heart and mind to the absolute nullity of everything and then leave you stripped to the bone wondering why it all had to be in the first place. And, even then, it will tell you one thing: it didn’t have to be, it was all a big fucking mistake.

That’s the truth of horror: the darkness of darkness…

When you strip off all the layers of illusion that defend you against knowing what you are, when you’re left with this thing stripped to the bone and realize nothing you say, nothing you do will change it; that, for better or worse, you are nothing, nothing at all but a meat puppet dangling in a pain vat of endless terror; and that even an answer is no answer, only another illusion seeking to cover up the truth. Sadly we know this, that is why we help those who will never be able to face that utter darkness, and they will always need those illusions even with all the suffering entailed. So we try to comfort – not ourselves, but those who will never know, never understand the bitter truth. So we write the illusions that assuage their pain, their grief, their anguish;  give them that one spot of relief to continue; or, as Beckett would say: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on!”

The only truth of horror that can be offered is to lead you to that place of emptiness where the nothing you are meets the nothing that is

Sonic Horrorism: Unsound/Undead Musical War – A Sonic-Fiction

“One of the focuses of the unit is to investigate deceptive frequency-based strategies, technologies, and programmes developed by military organizations to orchestrate phenomena of tactical haunting within conflict zones. They claim that this ‘martial hauntology’ is a subset of an overarching weaponisation of vibration. Their ongoing experiments have been concerned with the field of peripheral sonic perception—what they have dubbed ‘Unsound’.”

—From AUDINT—Unsound:Undead (Urbanomic / Art Editions)

Sonic warfare will create the haunted technoscapes of the future, soundworlds of decay and destruction leading humans to a joyous omnicide at the hands of their own music. As in the days of old when the great whales of the oceans followed the ley lines of their magnetic folds into the beached wonders of serene suicide, so will humanity under the hauntology of sonic catastrophe ride the musical chaos between silences into the deadly infernal of self-lacerating annihilation.

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The Road to the Unreal

…each night, as he dreamed, he carried out shapeless expeditions into its fantastic topography. To all appearances it seemed he had discovered the summit or abyss of the unreal, that paradise of exhaustion, confusion, and debris where reality ends and where one may dwell among its ruins.

—Thomas Ligotti, Vastarien

The echoes of thought from one work to another is a twisted tangle of chaos, a forest of nettles and puzzles, a labyrinth of false paths and wrong turns; and, yet, it does happen from time to time, that a brave quester, a journeyer into the obscure zones of horror will occasionally pass through the barriers between the real and unreal, enter into those nether regions of the unknown where the unmanifest mysteries of a darker and more uncertain topography of the fantastic is revealed and transmitted. Echoed in the secret chambers of hearts and minds like so many leaves swirling in the autumn wind.

There are those who have left signs, fragmentary visions, sorceries of hallucinatory voyages or strange adventures: lunatics and madmen, savants and dark prophets, oracles and sirens; decadent visionaries full of lurid tales of the unknown. Those who have been torn and wounded by the indifference of the natural and unnatural forces of these ruinous and unfathomable realms have on occasion returned to relay their dark wisdom. Especially those of the minor canon of pessimistic authors who have never been widely circulated in mainstream culture, those who have opened portals and doorways into these dark and tantalizing regions of the ancient occulture and obscura, seen  hidden arcana of the unholy that breaks the weak souled brethren but gives back to those who persevere unbidden truths.

The Well of Wyrd, where memory, pain, and torment commingle and the tales left by these voyagers surfaces from the depths of the haunted labyrinths we learn of their failures and successes. Generations of women and men seeking by untraditional means avenues into those nether regions of psychogeography where the unknown allures and seduces us toward the strange and puzzling mysteries and obscure sites of imaginative need and poverty begin to topple our consensually accepted reality and reveal to us something else; something ever about to be. These questers after the mind’s dark haunts bring back to us amazing fragments and tales of the infernal paradises of the Unreal that so many have craved, sought after, and quested in pursuit of like unholy seekers of a luminous sect of grail knights of horror and beauty. Some have like Browning’s questor to the ‘Dark Tower’ prepared themselves their whole lives for a glimpse of the impossible kingdoms of darkness and terror, and here and there a few have brought back out of those bleak realms the ruinous beauty of their short tales of the weird, fantastic, and strange; captivating us with glimpses, however blurred and twisted, of those sinister and yet fascinating realms of the Unreal.

The Daemonic Quest

The essential claim of the sublime is that man can, in feeling and in speech, transcend the human. What, if anything, lies beyond the human— God or the gods, the daemon or Nature— is matter for great disagreement. What, if anything, defines the range of the human is scarcely less sure.

—Thomas Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime

Reading Thomas Ligotti’s tales of horror over the past twenty years I’ve felt that pull of the “daemonic imagination” toward some indefinable darkness and enlightenment, a zone of horror and ecstasy hovering in the interstices of the world like flowers of corruption waiting to bloom. For Ligotti as a Master of horror did not seek some Platonic realm transcending time and space where the eternal forms (Ideas) dwell that guide and shape our lives; no, in his quest toward an “enlightenment in darkness” (one he admits he never attained) he sought what I’ll term the daemonic path: a formless path of unrest, driven by the elemental forces at play within the infernal garden of our catastrophic cosmos.  As Stefan Zweig in his study of the daemon in the works of Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche suggests:

It seems as if nature had implanted into every mind an inalienable part of the primordial chaos, and as if this part were interminably striving — with tense passion — to rejoin the superhuman, suprasensual medium whence it derives. The daemon is the incorporation of that tormenting leaven which impels our being (otherwise quiet and almost inert) towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction.1

Unlike the ancient sublime of transcendence that sought to move beyond our cosmos into some eternal realm of light as in Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise toward a beatific vision, Ligotti’s nightmare quest and visionary tales led him to toward the malevolent powers of darkness of the daemonic abyss. Following Edgar Allen Poe and Howard Phillips Lovecraft, seduced and lured as they were by the impersonal and indifferent cosmos of elemental malevolence, Ligotti would be driven toward a secular rather than religious theophany; one – unlike those sweet visions of God’s majesty with their soteriological visions of redemption and salvation, would lead Ligotti to fall forward, restlessly swerving  into the dark labyrinths of an impenetrable chasm and cosmic abyss of torment and suffering, moving endlessly through the doom-ridden layers of time and space where an unknown and unknowable malevolent presence pervades every singular atom within the ruins of reality.

“These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art. . . .”
– Frederico Garcia Lorca

It was the poet, Frederico Garcia Lorca, in reference to the duende – the dark muse of song—daemon, hobgoblin, mischief maker, guardian of “the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that we all know and all ignore.” Unlike the Muse or Angel, which exist beyond or above the poet, the duende sleeps deep within the poet, and asks to be awakened and wrestled, often at great cost. He would speak of that unfailing instinct that opens within one like a black orchid, or breaks through the mind with those dark sounds that wound. The duende is the dark angel of the blood and emotion, the driving force of that creative action that sings in the throat black sounds: “…the duende has to be roused in the very cells of the blood. … The real struggle is with the duende…. To help us seek the duende there is neither map nor discipline. All one knows is that it burns the blood like powdered glass”.2

This sense of duende is at the heart of most great music and poetry, as is it is of those transformative moments within the genre of horror. It is root and cause of that which stirs below the threshold of consciousness, gathering its sublime forces, generating the dread and terror that reveal to us the darkest truths of our suffering and pain. The nihilistic light that formed us from the beginning breaks over our vein egoistic selves shattering the vessels of our own ignorance sending us into a tailspin of doubt and panic from which there is no escape. As the poet Leopardi would sing of the dark malevolence below the threshold, the duende:

King of the real, creator of the world,
hidden malevolence, supreme power and supreme intelligence,
eternal giver of pain and arbiter of movement…
– Leopardi, Canti

William Blake once described the struggle with and against the daemon, the duende as the struggle with the Female Will, the matrix of night, death, the mother, and the sea.

 


  1. Zweig, Stefan. The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche (pp. 11-12). Pushkin Press (July 24, 2012)
  2. Lorca, Federico García(1898-1937) In Search of Duende. New Directions; Second edition (March 30, 2010)

 

*Working on this as a prelude to my book on Thomas Ligotti… will add more as it comes, and will link it from my outline page: here.

Let The Shadows Sing: Flannery O’Connor’s “A Prayer Journal”

Well I’ll be dammed… have to thank Michael Wehunt author of Greener Pastures for turning me onto Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal… I thought I’d read everything of hers and then some…

Already into it (a short journal) and discovered the dark honesty I’ve always trusted:

“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.”

She always did speak from the shadows… you can feel it in her stories and her longer works. A sense of mystery, shock, and violence that digs deep into you like an old worm gnawing at your innards. Her stories were nightmares come alive and have stayed with me my whole life. The misfits and scoundrels, idiots and savants, the whole lot have about them the doom that lives in the soul of the South like a darkness that spreads and never lets up. I may have left the swamps of Louisiana, and she from Georgia… but the swamps still pervade my dark side like I’m sure the rolling hills of Georgia did hers.