The cold embrasure of the sea,
The taste of brine laced flesh;
Death’s embattled forfeiture,
Giving way to Love’s dark histories;
Where tomb fed birthings rise,
And night gaunts cross black stars.
Sweet the fanged necessities
That hold us dearly to the departed,
Whose memories like honeyed languishments
Distill in us the bitter pangs of gravitas.
Slow the day that suckles us in its darkness,
The slippage seeping of the grave’s hollow soundings;
For here amid the sleepers walk the knowing ones,
Who from their heights fall to raise such light as this.
– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019
In the Blind Owl Sadegh Hedayat speaks of a disease that has cut him off from others in agony and suffering as if he’d been branded and marked by this secret and obscure ailment:
“Will anyone ever penetrate the secret of this disease which transcends ordinary experience, this reverberation of the shadow of the mind, which manifests itself in a state of coma like that between death and resurrection, when one is neither asleep nor awake?
I propose to deal with only one case of this disease. It concerned me personally and it so shattered my entire being that I shall never be able to drive the thought of it out of my mind. The evil impression which it left has, to a degree that surpasses human understanding, poisoned my life for all time to come. I said ‘poisoned’; I should have said that I have ever since borne, and will bear for ever, the brand-mark of that cautery.”1
Then Hedayat speaks of fears, along with his course of action (a decision to “remain silent and keep my thoughts to myself” etc.). Then reveals that the only one he will open himself up to is his “shadow”: “It is for his sake that I wish to make the attempt. Who knows? We may perhaps come to know each other better.”* Continue reading
Finally began my latest tale… a Grimdark Fantasy to allow me to work through many of the pessimistic themes I’ve been studying for so long this year. Just a snippet from the opening…
My first thought was, he lied in every word…
—Sayings of the Outcasts
Watching over the world like an indifferent god, the sun treats the impermanence and fragility of human lives with utter indifference and contempt.
– Book of the Nine
I studied his malicious eyes, seeking in that hoary darkness some sign of deceit, death prone maggot of the lower streets; this cripple, beggar, thief was known to me from womb-days past. We were both of the corruption, born of shadows and broken stones, creatures of the towers long hiding. Even now as I stretched my neck upward to the harsh steel sky where the bone moon shed her skin like a defrocked maiden I listened to the old man as he croaked his tale.
“We know these things. We do! We seen these things, and more; oh yes, we seen too much. We did. They came you know. The ones who do not speak. They came…”
He rambled on in that curved tongue like a swarthy rat chirping from its hole in the wall. I let him go on; it mattered not, I’d heard it before. I knew the tale. I knew where it was going. We both did. And, yet, I let him go on as he must; it was all he had left. These old tales; old illusions. How many deceptions we all live by. We all tell ourselves it’s truth we seek, when what we truly seek is a great lie against the world. We don’t want to know the truth. The truth kills, maims, tears us from our self-deceiving lies; our past. Most of all we don’t want to know that past… the pain is too real. Continue reading
Along the usual ways men travel in a circle with no beginning or end; they come, go, compete, throng like busy ants, change places, certainly, since no matter how much they walk, they are always where they were before, because one place is as good as another in the valley without exit.
—Carlo Michelstaedter, Persuasion and Rhetoric
In this book he develops Hegel’s master/slave thesis not as a political thought, but as an existential thesis in which the master is she who living fully in the present has no need of past and future, and therefore has no need to fear death; for death is swallowed up in the present of living. While those who are slaves fear both past and future, because they lack the presence of the present, and therefore are but shadows being sucked forward and backward in time like forgotten ghouls of a lost thought… having no life, they fear death – having no death, they fear life: caught in the trap between past and future they cannot enter the present because they are its shadows.
The horror story, by obeying the terms of the nightmare, is a way that, deviously, some people use to think about the unthinkable, to face what we otherwise would not choose to look upon, and, more importantly, to control and give meaning to that which can neither be controlled nor harbors any meaning. It is a perverted mode of defending ourselves from what would demean and destroy us, from what cannot be helped and should never have been—life itself in all its inane grotesquerie.
– Thomas Ligotti, The Shadow at the Bottom of the World
This is sixth reading of Ligotti’s Conspiracy book, and every time something new pops out or a new perspective on various angles of vision suddenly rise up while others fall back into the background. With this reading I honed in on his stance of pessimism and anti-natalism. His vision pushes Schopenhauer’s vision of extreme menace and hooks it with the early rather than late Lovecraftian horror reality. To say the least it is an explosive and somber view of life and cosmos, a view that leaves us in no doubt as to what underpins his corpus of tales. His vision is definitely not for everyone, it’s probably the darkest vision of existence I’ve seen in my sixty-eight years. But that’s only to say that his is a vision very few will ever accept, for the central core of his vision is that 99% of humanity is in denial of this horror reality within which we are all situated.
As he surmise from Zapffe and others it’s not actually our fault either, we have since the origins of consciousness been the victims of our own success. Consciousness gave rise to certain repressive and defensive measures against our natural existence, a “denial of reality” syndrome if you will. As T.S. Eliot once suggested: “Human cannot bare too much reality!” That’s an understatement. As Ajit Varki and Danny Brower in their book Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind suggests somewhere along the way humans were became aware of their own mortality, and the anxiety, terror, and dread of physical death shaped their psyches to the point of madness. To counter this “humans needed to evolve a mechanism for overcoming this hurdle: the denial of reality.” As a consequence of this evolutionary quirk we now deny any aspects of reality that are not to our liking-we smoke cigarettes, eat unhealthy foods, and avoid exercise, knowing these habits are a prescription for an early death. And so what has worked to establish our species could be our undoing if we continue to deny the consequences of unrealistic approaches to everything from personal health to financial risk-taking to climate change.
Optimism, confidence, and courage in the face of these harsh truths are the markers of our denial, defensive and self-deluded deliriums of our escape and evasive tactics to leave our natural world of mortality and degradation behind. We are the mad creatures who have invented artificial worlds to hide ourselves from the truth of our cosmic predicament. As Ligotti says:
“As a species with consciousness, we do have our inconveniences. Yet these are of negligible importance compared to what it would be like to feel in our depths that we are nothing but human puppets—things of mistaken identity who must live with the terrible knowledge that they are not making a go of it on their own and are not what they once thought they were. At this time, barely anyone can conceive of this happening—of hitting bottom and finding to our despair that we can never again resurrect our repressions and denials. Not until that day of lost illusions comes, if it ever comes, will we all be competent to conceive of such a thing. But a great many more generations will pass through life before that happens, if it happens.” (TCHR, pp. 79-89)
I’m more of an Anti-Gnostic Gnostic – or a pessimist who no longer ontologizes the universe as pure evil per se as in the Gnostics, but rather as a part of our epistemic inheritance: a mood and temperament, not a realism. The only horror being consciousness itself. I’m not a religious creature and like Ligotti I believe there are no objective values (moral anti-realism), only the indifference and impersonalism of a dynamic universe without gods or God. We are part of the insanity of processes that have no rhyme or reason as attested by the various evolutionary histories in our planetary history, all bound to various cataclysmic events which have cycled through time producing a myriad of different species. All of which (or some estimate 90%) have for the most part seen their day and gone extinct just as we will in some future time to be determined. Even now the notion of our replacement or substitution is in the offing with all the various philosophies and sciences of the post-human divide. Who knows what will come? Certainly not I. I’m no prophet or even doomsayer. Just someone who has by temperament and situation been drawn to the pessimistic worldview rather than optimists.
The Great Filter, in the context of the Fermi paradox, is whatever prevents non-living matter from undergoing abiogenesis, in time, to expanding lasting life as measured by the Kardashev scale. The concept originates in Robin Hanson’s argument that the failure to find any extraterrestrial civilizations in the observable universe implies the possibility something is wrong with one or more of the arguments from various scientific disciplines that the appearance of advanced intelligent life is probable; this observation is conceptualized in terms of a “Great Filter” which acts to reduce the great number of sites where intelligent life might arise to the tiny number of intelligent species with advanced civilizations actually observed (currently just one: human). This probability threshold, which could lie behind us (in our past) or in front of us (in our future), might work as a barrier to the evolution of intelligent life, or as a high probability of self-destruction. The main counter-intuitive conclusion of this observation is that the easier it was for life to evolve to our stage, the bleaker our future chances probably are. (wiki)
As Ligotti suggests:
Consciousness is an existential liability, as every pessimist agrees—a blunder of blind nature, according to Zapffe, that has taken humankind down a black hole of logic. To make it through this life, we must make believe that we are not what we are—contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox. To correct this blunder, we should desist from procreating.” The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (p. 49).
Do I believe that will ever happen? No. Humanity will continue as it always has in denial and self-deception, full of optimistic hope and dreams of either some heavenly paradise or earthly one just beyond our present degradation. All religions are based on the notion of transcendence for the most part, the notion of a beyonding… hoping for some form of soteriological or redemptive clause in the sad state of affairs that will allow them to overcome human organic depletion and death. Sadly they are wrong. But, hey, I’m in the minority here. So I’ll just let it sit or stand at that.
Summing up the pessimistic imagination Thomas Ligotti in his The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror states:
Here, then, is the signature motif of the pessimistic imagination that Schopenhauer made discernible: Behind the scenes of life there is something pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world. For Zapffe, the evolutionary mutation of consciousness tugged us into tragedy. For Michelstaedter, individuals can exist only as unrealities that are made as they are made and that cannot make themselves otherwise because their hands are forced by the “god” of philopsychia (self-love) to accept positive illusions about themselves or not accept themselves at all. For Mainländer, a Will-to-die, not Schopenhauer’s Will-to-live, plays the occult master pulling our strings, making us dance in fitful motions like marionettes caught in a turbulent wake left by the passing of a self-murdered god. For Bahnsen, a purposeless force breathes a black life into everything and feasts upon it part by part, regurgitating itself into itself, ever-renewing the throbbing forms of its repast. For all others who suspect that something is amiss in the lifeblood of being, something they cannot verbalize, there are the malformed shades of suffering and death that chase them into the false light of contenting lies.
That says everything that needs to be said on the subject.
“But at the bottom, the immanent philosopher sees in the entire universe only the deepest longing for absolute annihilation, and it is as if he clearly hears the call that permeates all spheres of heaven: Redemption! Redemption! Death to our life! and the comforting answer: you will all find annihilation and be redeemed!”
― Philipp Mainländer, Die Philosophie Der Erlosung
Thomas Ligotti mentions Philipp Mainländer one of Schopenhauer’s followers whose Philosophy of Redemption exposed an inverted Gnosticism, one in which the supposed alien god of the Universe decides long ago to vacate his Outside Exile and die through his creation in a great festival of annihilation. The myth that Mainländer envisions is one in which this God rather than seeking to save humanity decides on another plan of redemption, one in which his secret wish to end himself becomes the path to redemption. This God sacrifices himself and his sparks are spread throughout the known universe, secret energeia or egregores that inhabit every living thing in the universe with this God’s corruption and horror reality of the “Will-to-Die”. So that unlike Schopenhauer’s Will-to-Live, this universal method of self-suicide or Deicide is instilled in every aspect of natural existence.
As Ligotti puts it: “Mainländer was confident that the Will-to-die he believed would well up in humanity had been spiritually grafted into us by a God who, in the beginning, masterminded His own quietus. It seems that existence was a horror to God. Unfortunately, God was impervious to the depredations of time. This being so, His only means to get free of Himself was by a divine form of suicide.” (TCHR, p. 35)
Mainländer was so sure his ideas would be adhered too that on the day of publication of his magisterial edifice he committed suicide. Ligotti concludes:
“In Mainländer’s philosophy, “God knew that He could change from a state of super-reality into non-being only through the development of a real world of multiformity.” Employing this strategy, He excluded Himself from being. “God is dead,” wrote Mainländer, “and His death was the life of the world.” Once the great individuation had been initiated, the momentum of its creator’s self-annihilation would continue until everything became exhausted by its own existence, which for human beings meant that the faster they learned that happiness was not as good as they thought it would be, the happier they would be to die out.” (ibid. p. 35)
- Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror. Penguin Books; Reprint edition (October 2, 2018)
Even now as he sat at this desk, doing this work, pondering the strange and unfathomable events that had brought him here to begin with he was tempted to believe it was like everything else an illusion. More than that – a delusion of old age, a demented dream of an ailing body. But he knew it wasn’t, knew this is where he was meant to be, doing what he had to do. It had always been this way, and it would always be this way.
Even when he felt the first palpitations, the slow draw in his chest, moving toward the big window where in the distance he saw his wife Martha kneeling down, her delicate hands kneading the newly turned earth where she was planting flowers for the Spring. Even then he didn’t want to believe what was happening was happening. But it was. And he knew it, and knew nothing he could do or say would change the fact that this was it. He wanted to say something to his wife, but he knew that what could be said wasn’t worth saying. He’d said everything and nothing. In the moments before he fell he tried to remember what it was he’d wanted out of life, knowing as he knew that it didn’t matter anyway. Nothing did then, nothing would now. He’d be gone, and memory and desire would fall back into the great emptiness of things.
But they didn’t, nothing is ever lost in this emptiness. Everything goes on and on till it doesn’t then it changes.
Even now as he sat at the desk waiting for the first client of the day he wondered if they too felt such strange disquieting thoughts. Most of them like he was when he came here the first time were dazed and in shock not believing what was happening to them, each like he had been living in denial of what was very much the truth of their situation. To be here in this place, to know what he knew now was almost too much. As he’d sunk down into the thick carpet on that day he’d thought it would just end, that the enveloping darkness would obliterate all thought and there would be nothing left, nothing remaining. He was wrong.
And yet everything here was just as confusing, or more so, than it had been there. But where is here, and where is there? He was still confused. Everything he’d been taught “there” was meaningless “here”. All the preachers, all the philosophers, all the cynics; they’d all gotten it wrong. Nothing was as it seemed.
That was his job, to help those who were confused to realize it wouldn’t get any better. That no one here knew any more than those back there. Things were just what they were; no meaning, no reason, just a sort of inarticulate confusion. All those that came here were like he had been at one time, seekers of the final solution to why… they’d discover soon enough that it was the wrong question. We’d all been asking the wrong questions for far too long.
Sometimes he really wished there had been someone here to answer the deepest questions, the deepest yearnings of his inarticulate heart. But after a while, when no one came forward, when he realized there was no one here, there had never been anyone here with the answers; he wanted to die, but couldn’t because this was both and wasn’t… death. Death had been a lie, too; just one more deception among so many. What it was no one could answer, everyone he’d met here was just as confused as he was living as all do who live here did without meaning or purpose. Everything was pointless, and yet everything went on, pointless or not. Nothing would end, not even our belief in the end.
The first client of the day, confused as he was, stepped through the door. His eyes full of that inarticulate madness of those who believed things would be different than this – whatever this is. Each, like he, had believed the end was just a complete cessation into nothingness. As if death were a blissful sea of forgetfulness and nullity from which nothing but nothing would emerge ever again.
It wasn’t. Everything returns in the end, but changed. Changed forever. And nothingness was not what people assumed. It was something else, something other.
He stood up and greeted the new client:
“Welcome to the Void!”
The client blinked his eyes, thought about saying something but realized that what could be said wasn’t worth saying.
– Steven Craig Hickman ©2020 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.
What happens in a world in which social distancing becomes the norm rather than the exception? J.G. Ballard in a comic venting once suggested there would come a time when,
“Every home will be transformed into its own TV studio. We’ll all be simultaneously actor, director and screenwriter in our own soap opera. People will start screening themselves. They will become their own TV programmes.”
In his short story Intensive Care Unit the protagonist describes growing up in isolation:
“As a child I had been brought up in the hospital crèche, and thus spared all the psychological dangers of a physically intimate family life (not to mention the hazards, aesthetic and otherwise, of a shared domestic hygiene). But far from being isolated I was surrounded by companions. On television I was never alone. In my nursery I played hours of happy games with my parents, who watched me from the comfort of their homes, feeding on to my screen a host of video-games, animated cartoons, wild-life films and family serials which together opened the world to me.”
In our age of mobile phones and laptops one imagines a Ballardian universe in which “social distancing” has become the new norm, and people carry on their lives in total isolation as if to meet in person was a terrible taboo never to be broken. Ballard describes this process too. Describing an abortive meeting between husband and wife after decades of separation (even their marriage had been performed via screen, etc.):
“After this first abortive meeting Margaret and I returned to the happy peace of our married life. So relieved was I to see her on the screen that I could hardly believe our meeting had ever taken place. Neither of us referred to the disaster, and to the unpleasant emotions which our brief encounter had prompted. During the next few days I reflected painfully on the experience. Far from bringing us together, the meeting had separated us. True closeness, I now knew, was television closeness – the intimacy of the zoom lens, the throat microphone, the close-up itself. On the television screen there were no body odours or strained breathing, no pupil contractions and facial reflexes, no mutual sizing up of emotions and advantage, no distrust and insecurity. Affection and compassion demanded distance. Only at a distance could one find that true closeness to another human being which, with grace, might transform itself into love.”
The notion of a world without contact, a world completely bound by closure, the enclosure of all society in isolated cells in which the screen, the virtual worlds of our mediated lives is carried on in purified environments for our own protection. A world of germ free intensive care units… a dystopian nightmare of absolute isolation.
- Ballard, J. G.. The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (p. 947). Norton. Kindle Edition.
If we had a world all our own, it would matter little whether it was a world of piety or derision!
—E. M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist
What if the world has shifted into a mode of horror that has become so normalized that one no longer feels the horror? It’s as if everything and everyone around one has become a part of the weird and eerie expression of some master weaver of tales, and yet because they’ve all been blinded to the tale’s narrative they’ve become mere puppets and sleepwalkers within its dark hall of mirrors. Has our world become one of those funhouse amusement parks for some demented intelligence, a realm of pure insanity in which we’ve all become the somnambulants of an abyssal dream sequence without a plot. And, then again, maybe there is no great Magus anywhere in sight, no big Other behind the mask of terror, but rather the world is itself the fabulous tale of a complete indifference, a cosmic unraveling of such proportions that we’ve become complicit in its unfolding inanity.
Joel Lane’s tales are more phantasmagoria than horror, there’s this all pervading sense of doom hanging over each story hinting at terrible truths forever about to be revealed. His pessimism is of the type that implies something has gone terribly wrong with the universe rather than slapping your face with some monstrous effect. It’s as if one had just stepped out of a movie theatre into someone else’s life, a life that has been there in the sidereal sidelines all along inhabiting the blank spaces of our world and through no fault of our own we’ve suddenly entered the gap between these realms with no way back…
As in this fragment:
“Following the sound, Helen and Claire soon came to the shooting gallery. An excited group of stunted or deformed people were firing on a cage full of helpless figures. Claire stared for a long time—not at those shooting, but at their targets.
The lightning seemed to have brought the machines to life. The whole place was crowded now; though the passers-by walked not just through mud, but on sheets of water. Helen remembered the patches of deep flame she had seen from the wheel; they must have been submerged further, driven under the ground. It seemed as though the rain itself held light; falling, it made sharp near-vertical wires. Crossing these lines, between the stalls, were stretched horizontal barbed wires that looked ragged with shreds of torn cloth. Helen glimpsed a figure dancing close by. It was someone trapped in the machinery under the big wheel, jerking in pain as it spun round empty. There was no sound other than the creak and screech of metal, and the sharp cracks of air-rifles. The fairground resembled a battlefield.”
—Joel Lane, THE EARTH WIRE and Other Stories
Still reading Joel Lane’s tales… each of his stories is like wandering in a bleak and desolate inferno, an emptied world where even ghosts seem thinner and more ruinous. Late in life Lane joined the Socialist party with his mum, and his commitment to the poor and outcast shows in every story I’ve read so far. He lived in Birmingham England and seems to have enjoyed walking through this old city, and yet his view of it indicates a darkening world of late capitalism where broken lives of the poor and workers and outcasts pervade a world in ruins. Finishing the story called The Canal one is given over to this desolation as if he’d discovered the river Styx and was about to depart life for the realms of the dead:
“Someone moved behind him. Paul turned and saw thin figures emerging from the alcoves, on both sides of the tunnel. One of the canal people stepped closer and touched Paul’s injured arm. It was still bleeding, but the fluid that ran from it wasn’t blood. Paul could see the blue of his own tattered shirt; and flowing from the wounds in his arm, a dirty water that smelt like the canal. The man behind him ripped the sleeve from his own shirt, then tied it around Paul’s arm. The flow stopped, but the numbness remained. Paul looked back at the face of the child. Other people were drawing closer around him. He wanted to tell them that he didn’t need to be rescued, that this was where he belonged. But he couldn’t speak. They seemed to understand in any case. Some of them helped him to climb aboard the barge. When the barge started to move, Paul realised the sunlight had deceived him. This wasn’t a tunnel; nor, strictly speaking, a canal.”
—Joel Lane, THE EARTH WIRE and Other Stories. Christopher Roden/Ash-Tree Press.
Most of his tales leave you in that undecided state, wondering and speculating as to just what had happened. An understated tone that leaves you in a state of brokenness without any firm answer or solution to the mystery. But this is as it should be for our world remains unresolved, and there are no answers to the strangeness.
Read an article not favorable to Stephen King… (I want link it, not worth the effort… sorry.)
But I beg to differ…
King touches the mediocrity in us all. The bottom line is he is able to fathom the surface not depths of the American psyche, and what he found was its banal horror, its quiet modes of desperation and fear; that hauntings of the untutored mind. The truth is that the vast majority of Americans are not great readers, and for the most part fear intellectuals – the anti-intellectualist tradition and all that blather etc. But hey he has the genius to touch that dark corner of our society with an acumen that few before or since can duplicate. Maybe his banal horror is the true genius of the American psyche rather than all our hypercritical elitism put together…
I don’t read King because he brings us the latest philosophical fad, nor that he intellectualizes over the world’s pain, but rather because he is able to bring to the fore the lost souls of the American psyche, to put them on a page as banal as they are and make them live, love, dread, kill, maim, horrify, etc. It’s the ugly ducklings that cannot represent themselves that King lifts up and exposes to the mesh of his fevered mind. King has no pretenses to literature, but is and has always favored the pulp traditions of our country. Too many of our supposed cultural elite seem to see in this something beneath their reading habits. So be it. For me King brings to us the haunted inscapes of the real America exposed in the frying pan of pulp. And, yet, those who love the noir narratives of the great detective and crime fictions of the last century can understand King as one of theirs… even Lovecraft and Jim Thompson would have accepted this latter day pulpist against all the literati in history.
One of the basics of Weird literature is the notion that it not reveal in complete detail the unknown, but that it should always leave that object just outside the purview of our common sense realist expectations. This notion that the Weird is always speculative, and that our access to the objects of its strange worlds should be through some form of indirect rather than direct vision is well illustrated by many of H.P. Lovecraft’s own tales. (No need to go into that here!) As Iain Hamilton Grant in a recent work suggests:
“…we can never get to a point where we know every dimension and quality of an object, and as such there will always be something about the object that escapes our translation. This is what the literary translator experiences when she sees her translation pulled in two competing directions – towards literal fidelity on the one hand and cultural/ contextual fidelity on the other. There will always be some dimension of a text that goes untranslated.”
Isn’t this the truth of most Weird literature? That the objects of dread, terror, and fear are always in excess of our ability to translate them into our normal everyday language and common sense reality? It’s these liminal edges of the real / unreal dichotomy that deliver us to that speculative mode of apprehension which suggests that for the most part we are blind to most of the world’s workings, that we live in and through a consciousness that is both limited and bound to a very small and finite spectrum of the Real. Weird literature explores these liminal zones reminding us of the strangeness of our world, and that’s what keeps our world open and incomplete; a world that can never be reduced to the circle of the known. There will always be something on the outside seeking entrance into our conscious minds, something strange and away that cannot be translated into our safe and secure worlds of thought. And, yet, that’s what keeps us alive and seeking answers, the unknown that is unknown. The closer we get to knowing this mystery the further it recedes from our grasp. It’s this limit, this edge of things that keeps us thinking, speculating, and seeking more and more investigations into the Weird and uncanny zones of being…
And, yet, there is another aspect of Weird literature, the notion that it is a critique of our limited fabrications and interpretations of the world. The notion that we seem to accept as given the accepted reality of the common sense world we all share and live in, and that the linguistic and imagistic safeguards that circumvent and lock us all in a shared and illusionary construction of reality may in the last instance be detrimental to our lives. This is the notion that Weird literature doesn’t so much expose us to the great outdoors of the strange, as it actually shows just how illusionary and manipulated we are by our socio-logical and cultural-ideological prisons that keep us bound to a false vision of the Real. By opening us to the intransigent and broken ruins that surround us the Weird exposes the breaks and gaps in our constructed worlds, releasing us into a world that is not only stranger than we thought, but stranger than we could ever imagine thereby freeing us to explore the edges of our own lives in a more empowered and unhindered way.
- Hamilton, Grant. The World of Failing Machines: Speculative Realism and Literature . John Hunt Publishing.
“Life is will-to-live, will is a lack, lack is pain, all life is pain.”
― Carlo Michelstaedter, La melodia del giovane divino: Pensieri, racconti, critiche
So the blind and mute pain of all the things that, in wanting to be, are not, will be farsighted and eloquent for the one who has taken on its persona, for in gray pleasure, in the finite pains of all things that, for fear of death, always repress it, he will hear it speak and see it… watch in anticipation,’ a good that those things do not have the courage to want. He will see that what men suffer for is not hunger, thirst, disease, or misfortune. Nor are food, drink, apparent health, what is in their hand but is not theirs (for they do not possess its power) what can make them content. He will see that obtuse pain suffers in them in every present, equally empty in abundance or privation. He will suffer at one and the same point of his deficiency and theirs: speaking the voice of his own pain, he will speak to them the distant voice of their own pain. Just as in his intense activity he will be close to satiating his own pain, so he will place near them a life by which they will see the weave of what presses and distracts them gradually unravel; they will find themselves being stable without the fear of instability; they will see the walls of the tiny room of their misery torn asunder at a stroke and their tiny light grow dim when he appears like the dawn of a new day and the outside darkness is no longer there to press them with its terror. Freed from what they believe indispensable, from cares, from the weight of the myriad little things in which their life always dissipates and around which it always turns, from all the misery of their pettiness, they will taste the joy of a fuller present in the impossible, the unbearable. They will see that there is nothing to fear, nothing to seek, nothing to flee from—hunger is not hunger, bread is not bread; for they will experience their hunger in another manner, and other bread will have been offered to them. No longer will they feel cold or fatigue, pains here and desires there; nor will they be frustrated by need but will feel their life gathered in the present, for at one point they will have been made participants in a vaster and deeper life.
from Persuasion and Rhetoric by Carlo Michelstaedter
Michelstaedter killed himself in 1910, at 23. The reason for his action, as is often the case with suicides, remains purely speculative. Yet he left enough material to give some support to conjectures on the existential crisis that brought him to his precocious end.
In a letter to his sister Paula, who, like the Paolina of Leopardi, was also his confidant, Carlo made a lucid diagnosis of his illness:
It is in part an individual condition, in part the illness of the age [la malattiad ell’e poca] insofar as moral balance is concerned, because we are presently living in an age in which changes in society seem to go hand-in-hand with a dissolution of all bonds . . . and the pathways of existence are no longer sharply drawn . . . and it depends upon personal initiative to create the luminous path through universal chaos.
- Michelstaedter, Carlo. Persuasion and Rhetoric. Yale University Press (September 10, 2004)
Rereading some of Joel Lane’s stories. There’s a sense of quiet desperation, loneliness, the drift of gray days and lives that seem forever to dissolve into spider webs of chaos.
“What cried out in her mind, still, wasn’t the atrocity half-realised in her or waiting to be fulfilled in others. It was the simple misery of knowing that the group had created something to unite them. And it had only left each of them feeling more alone.”
– Joel Lane, THE EARTH WIRE and Other Stories
Joshi says of him:
“Joel Lane (b. 1963) began publishing in the late 1980s and has written novels, stories, and poems. He has often been referred to as one of the “Miserabilists”— a writer whose unrelenting focus on death, poverty, and hopelessness renders his work the fictional equivalent of the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. But his tales are undeniably effective and often constitute significant social commentary on the social and economic inequalities of contemporary England.”
—S. T. Joshi, Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction
Now that you mention it, yellow does feel to me like the color of disease and decay. Maybe that’s a holdover from my days as fanatic of decadent literature reading the early issues of the Yellow Book.
Interviewer: How much of an influence did the Decadents have on your work?
TL: The Decadents were an extension of Poe. He was the writer who, through the translations of Baudelaire and others in France, really legitimized morbidity as a literary subject as well as a worldview. The French already had a tradition of cynicism, morbidity, and pessimism from the eighteenth-century works of authors like Sade, Chamfort, and La Rochefoucauld. I believe that this made them receptive to Poe’s anti-life-affirming genius. He not only appealed to the negative spirit in French writers, but he did it with consummate artistry and technique, which are essential to transmitting one’s attitudes. If Poe had been a bad writer, nobody would have taken notice of him. Even though there already existed a philosophical tradition of morbidity and pessimism going back to the Greeks in the Western tradition, it wasn’t until Poe came along that poets and fiction writers could feel free to express these feelings in literary works. Take the first couple sentences of “Berenice”–” MISERY is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform.” Who in earlier Western literature would have dared to open a short story in this manner except perhaps for the purposes of parody? Poe’s authority in the literary sphere inspired others throughout the world to align themselves with him under the same black flag. In the United States, it wasn’t much of leap from Poe’s declaration in “Berenice” to Lovecraft’s opening of “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family”–” Life is a hideous thing . . . .” This is the form of Decadence that has always interested me–the freedom, after thousands of years under the whip of uplifting religions and the tyrannical politics of the positive–which are nothing more than a means for crowd control–to speak to others who in their hearts could no longer lie to themselves about what they thought concerning the value, or rather lack of value, of human life.
“There is no refuge from the living void, the terror of the invisible.”
– Thomas Ligotti
Its presence always permeates the dream: fog with a pallid face drifting in through an open window. It fuses its tormented spirit with dead objects, animating things which should not move or live, breathing a blasphemous life into the unliving. One glance at a design on the wall catches this Horror Maker engendering a world of writhing creatures there. It lives in all things, and they tilt and flutter with a menacing absence of purpose or predictability. Finally it melds with the slowly coagulating shadows, and now it is without limits as it spreads to command a domain of quivering darkness. The universe becomes its impossible body, its corpse. As the blackness of space is its corrupting blood, so the planets are multiple skulls of the freakish beast; the paths of doomed meteors trace the architecture of its labyrinthine skeletal frame; spasms of dying galaxies are its nervous tics; and strange stellar venues of incomprehensible properties are the chambers of its soul. Within this universe the dreamer is trapped, his dreams confined to the interior of a form other than his own.
“All things are full of weariness…”
– Koheleth (Ecclesiastes)
What follows is the last fragment in Cioran’s Decay. I’ve read it several times before, and have always wondered why he continued to endure himself and life. This was the work that divided his life from his Romanian existence, and would make him a star in the French intellectual scene even to the point that it would gain him his first prize (and the only one he would accept for the rest of his existence!). Yet, like most of his writing from this point forward he would repeat himself ad infinitum under different masks and styles till – as he’d say in a late interview of his Alzheimer’s – his brain broke…
“Forever be accursed the star under which I was born, may no sky protect it, let it crumble in space like a dust without honor! And let the traitorous moment that cast me among the creatures be forever erased from the lists of Time! My desires can no longer deal with this mixture of life and death in which eternity daily rots. Weary of the future, I have traversed its days, and yet I am tormented by the intemperance of unknown thirsts. Like a frenzied sage, dead to the world and frantic against it, I invalidate my illusions only to irritate them the more. This exasperation in an unforeseeable universe— where nonetheless everything repeats itself—will it never come to an end? How long must I keep telling myself: “I loathe this life I idolize?” The nullity of our deliriums makes us all so many gods subject to an insipid fatality. Why rebel any longer against the symmetry of this world when Chaos itself can only be a system of disorders? Our fate being to rot with the continents and the stars, we drag on, like resigned sick men, and to the end of time, the curiosity of a denouement that is foreseen, frightful, and vain.”
—E.M. CIORAN. A Short History of Decay
Cioran was raised in an Orthodox home, his father a priest, his mother neither a believer nor agnostic. Later in life before she died he once told her how miserable his life was, and she replied that if she’d known it would turn out this way she’d of aborted him. Cioran’s self-hatred and hatred of existence led him to a life of solitude, and yet he had a companion. Like most of us who are creative he was a man of contradictions, driven by a daemon-daimon – or, what Kafka-Rilke and many others would term “I am an Other!” I’ve often wondered after reading the above how he survived it, while so many other pessimists either stopped writing or committed suicide he seems to have lived on and on as if he deserved this self-torturous existence, relished in its insanity. Writing book after book of fragmentary aphorisms, essays, and asides. With such a dark vision what is left? Why speak at all? Paraphrasing Nietzsche in one of his dark moments when he said that whatever we might say is already dead… maybe that’s it we speak only because we are dead.
In those days, one still had to take God into account, adjust Him to disbelief, include Him in solitude. A transaction crammed with charm, irremediably vanished! We lack cloisters as dispossessed, as vacant as our souls, in order to lose ourselves there without the attendance of the heavens, and in a purity of absent ideals, cloisters befitting the disabused angels who, in their fall, by dint of vanquished illusions, would remain still immaculate. We long for a vogue of retreats in an eternity without faith, an assumption of the habit in nothingness, an Order released from mysteries, and from which no “brother” would claim anything, disdaining his salvation even as that of others, an Order of Impossible Salvation. . . .
– E.M. Cioran,. A Short History of Decay
If such a Being really existed, if our weaknesses vanquished our resolutions and our depths our deliberations, then why go on thinking, since our difficulties would be settled, our questions suspended, and our fears allayed? Which would be too easy. Every absolute—personal or abstract—is a way of avoiding the problems, and not only the problems but also their root, which is nothing but a panic of the senses.
—Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay
Lovecraft insists on telling us things it does no good to know: things that can’t help us or protect us or even prepare us for the awful and inevitable apocalypse to come. The only comfort is to accept it, live in it, and sigh yourself into the balm of living oblivion. If you can only maintain this constant sense of doom, you may be spared the pain of foolish hopes and their impending demolishment.
—Thomas Ligotti, The Consolations of Horror
I sometimes think irony must be dead, since I do get a lot of people who assume I’m serious and literal, rather than playful and figurative in many of my posts. The notion of saying one thing and meaning another is always tricky, but it seems in our age of such ultra-serious political thinking that hyperbole and irony, satire and lambast have slowly decayed into lunacy. In many ways this is because the whole humanistic tradition of learning with its core curriculum based on the power of rhetoric and persuasion, with the knowledge of figurative language and tropes, has all but disappeared in the minds of the younger generations.
What’s difficult in social media is to convey the tonal qualities of irony and its nuances, which is the hallmark of Stand-Up comedy and other forms of playful discourse. If I had my way I’d teach a course on irony starting with the Portuguese master, José Saramago. His works gently ply that ancient art with a circumspect power that creeps up on you rather than pounding you over the head. But there are many others… in the U.S.A. the names Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. come to mind.
Irony is supple and rich, a little lower than Wit but higher than Juvenalian diatribe. Irony awakens us from our sleep in stupidity by applying a figurative slap in the face, a slow turn of phrase that could be taken either literally or figuratively; and, leaving it up to the reader to decide which, but also leaving the literal reader in limbo for having literalized a statement that makes him up to be the butt of a private joke that he himself has fallen into. The proverbial banana peel of thought…
John Barth a postmodern factionalist and maximalist would in many of his books prey upon an extended ironic metaphor to hold together his satiric take on our American traditions. Many seem to castigate the postmodern writers in our time because of their intelligent use of irony and cynicism as if they were not serious. Truth is they were much more serious than our current crop of literalists who as Blake once suggested have a singular focus and dark intent toward normative seriousness that cuts off and cauterizes the ironic and comedic. One need only return to the plays of Aristophanes to discover that intelligence and irony go hand in hand, that a veritable critique of society is done with éclat and the power of comedy rather than its elder sisters the Tragedians. Comedy and Satire always came after the serious business; and, yet, it was in the subtle playfulness of comedy that spawned laughter and intelligence and gave birth to a sense of justice in the face of all seriousness.
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 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…
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.
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…
“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.
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…
“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)
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.