Gnostic (Sufi?) influence on Sadegh Hedayat’s “The Blind Owl”?

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

Death’s Mask

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…

Death’s Mask

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

On Carlo Michelstaedter’s “Persuasion and Rhetoric”

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.


Read his book… here!

The Horror Story

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

Rereading Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

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)

What I believe?

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.

 

A Great Horror Philosophy: “The Will-to-Die” in Philip Mainländer’s Philosophy of Redemption

“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)


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror. Penguin Books; Reprint edition (October 2, 2018)

What Could Be Said Wasn’t Worth Saying

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.

Michael Griffin: Armageddon House

“A complete series of cultural memories came to mind: the Egyptian masrabas, the Etruscan tombs, the Aztec structures . . . as if this piece of artillery fortification could be identified as a funeral ceremony…”

—Paul Virilio, Bunker Archaeology

“Nature has a master agenda we can only dimly know.”

—Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

CaptureIn The Folly of Fools Robert Trivers reminds us that for our species “deceit and self-deception are two sides of the same coin”. Lying and the art of lying are as old as human kind, and our ability to deceive others as well as ourselves is a part of some deep rooted aspect of our survival mechanisms that in our late stage and civilizational decay have become neither healthy nor part of that age old propagation of survival tools that can keep us safe from the perversities and horrors of our own dark minds.

The bunker marks off a military space – that of the last war game, a game that all nations elaborated and perfected together in the course of the last century.

—Paul Virilio, Bunker Archaeology

Armageddon House. Already the name beckons us toward doomsday, toward some strange apocalyptic world of deadly consequence. Four adults, two men, two women: buried alive in what all assume is a Test. A test for what? As one of the members of this motley crew, Polly, in Michael Griffin’s new horror novel tells us

 “We’re like a simulation of the big test they’ll do later, somewhere farther away. Isn’t that right? Like, a test for a test. I mean, humanity is just a trial run anyway. Preliminary, that’s the word. Preliminary test. Each test is practice for another test, and that’s practice for the next one. Only, how many? Like, which one is this?”1

af190d929775ce05b478fecccf0333beOne is reminded of those elite bunkers for the rich, doomsday escape holes in the middle of nowhere, underground caves like those reviewed on Forbes: Billionaire Bunkers. Except in the novel the personnell seem more like unwilling participants in a private hell for beleagured denizens of some forgotten nightmare. In this grotesquirie each of the four must willingly or not submit to clean up, a biological disposal project of clearing this enclosed world of its human detritus. One of the members:

“…uses tweezers to gather organic detritus from each work stand into the larger stainless-steel tray atop the roll cart. Tiny snips of detached skin, unwanted eyelids, lobes and appendages, discarded trimmed nails, hairs and eyelashes pulled out by roots, all the flesh scattered amidst blood smears and spatters. Every day, the shedding of these parts leaves behind more waste than all the days before. This avalanche of decay, a kind of incremental death, is necessary for the renewal it brings.”

The morbidity of this sequence adds to an already strange and paradoxical stage set. As if we were watching some old Outer Limits or Twilight Zone parable of our late modernity, of the collapse of civilization into a purified world of decadent enclosure where the minutiae of physical being becomes the last parade of sensual delight under duress. Using an incinerator to sterilize the environment one member lifts the days remains into a wall-mounted oven: ” Inside is yesterday’s tray, now cool, bearing only a trace of sterile ash, easily rinsed away. He removes the clean pan and replaces it with today’s, which bears the last, unwanted remnants of who they were until this morning, and never will be again.” It’s as if each day the groups identity is erased and renewed through this act of ritualized incineration. As he closes the air-tight mechanism and turns on the fire the day’s participant Mark ” is certain he smells life burning away.” One wonders what is being released, what is being renewed. Are the participants slowly shedding not only their skins but their humanity as well.

Each day the four are set with certain routines that have up to now kept them adjusted to the insanity of their situation. But on the occasion of our entry into the novel the routine is disrupted by one of the member’s Polly who has for a while been in search of certain meds she believes lie hidden in one of the out of bounds chambers in this labyrinthine bunker world. As if one had entered one of those Ballardian speculative scenarios in which personalities begin to clash in some psycho ward style dysfunctionalism we begin to see the characters perversities rising to the surface. A hidden tension of subdued violence pervades the various innuendos of conversation until the most physical of the group Greyson as if on que suddenly burst the civil decorum of their secure world and manhandles Mark to the ground over some ape like territorial infraction between himself and his partner Polly. The tone of the work begins to go south from there…

Polly vanishes into the darkness of the immense bunker world. The others follow. They discover a great crack in the walls, a tree root that must reach down from some enormous tree far above the complex, a door in the furthest reaches of some forgotten region with a plaque which states in simple letters “Utgard”. It’s as if we’ve suddenly entered some mythical time and world where the ancient Norse World-Tree and the doorway to the giants – the out world of Jotunheim is situated. Closed off, locked, bound in darkness and unreachable. Even as the shock of this takes hold, they all feel a change in the atmosphere, something has changed, a new sense of things to come; and, Jenna – the most sensible one up till now, seems to awaken from some dream throwing her head back and spouting like an ancient Völuspá:  “The wolf won’t cry forever,” Jenna says, voice high and keening. “Someday he’ll climb out, he’ll ride, he’ll rear up and devour god. Then who’ll be crying?”

Ultimately this is a novel of memory, of lost time, of fragments of lives lost amid disasters and ruins, of picking up the pieces here and there in bits of conversation, remembering what one was and is: the quick and the dead. Most of all the novel is seen through Mark’s eyes and mind, and he seems to have lost something long ago, a part of his mind, life, memories in an alternate past or future – one that each of the others understands and keeps repeating in strange and disquieting ways like the trickle of water against darkness and hopelessness. A knowing, a world refreshing and dying to itself each day, a gun in hand, a darkness turning to light in a glow of blue nihil… a shock.

Visit Michael on his site: GriffinWords
Buy Michael’s book on Undertow Publications or Amazon.com


  1. Griffin, Michael. Armageddon House. Undertow Publications (May 12, 2020)

 

S.P. Miskowski: The Worst Is Yet To Come

Death was the motif; it had perhaps been the motif all along. Death and the way of handling it—that was the motif of the story…

—V. S. Naipaul, The enigma of arrival

CaptureEnigma, from the Latin “riddle”, a tale of woven threads, a strange whirl of slow moving images that cocoon like trap us in a labyrinth of deceit and self-deception. On finishing S.P. Miskowski’s novel The Worst Is Yet To Come I feel like one of those creatures stung, caught in-between two worlds – one world familiar and canny, a place I know because I’ve instilled it with a lifetime of meaning and emotions; the other, a world of uncanny strangeness, a realm in which my mind is trapped as in a spider’s web, a victim of some nightmare master of riddles.

I still do not know what happened, what transpired. I’m baffled. And, yet, I’m haunted by this tale, left in a state of enigmatic quandary without any sense of resolution. Some tales are like that, untidy, leaving you to pursue your own solution to the enigma, the author like some stage magician leading you up to the dénouement then enclosing you in a void behind a curtain of darkness from which you will slowly drift off into sleep unknowing of the one thought, the one word that might release you from your bondage, free you to penetrate the secrets of the riddle.

We know this much: this is a tale with no absolute ending, a tale that weaves its silent mysteries like so many strands of a cottonwood around our lives. Two families, two young girls, a riddle of horror woven of fatality and accident. But are there ever really any accidents? Are we not all puppets being guided by dark and hidden strings of some infernal riddle master whose sole joy is in seeing us twisted in a mesh of pain and misery. Or, is it simpler than that? Maybe the truth is there is no plot, no narrative behind the enigma of our lives, just a vicious circle of unresolved riddles without answers.

Miskowski’s tale places each of the characters in a web of accident and mayhem. A father whose drug habit leads to the disappearance of a daughter. A newlywed’s momentary decision of madness will lead to a revenge play in which Death is the only one who holds all the keys. And the lives of two young girls whose identities like all enigmas is never completely revealed. This is the kind of tale in which you as the Reader, the riddle-master’s assistant will be led down the path of broken dreams where any hope of solution becomes an enigma itself.

Skillute, WA – the city of nightmares and dreams, a place that seems to act like a magnet drawing the world’s children of darkness into its web of deceit. Like Lovecraft or Faulkner, S.P. Miskowski has discovered in the notion of genius loci – the elemental drift of imaginative need a “spirit of place” as old as time itself. It’s a site that is neither in or out of time’s dark vale, a place where strangeness makes its home and habitation. A place where the dead and the living situate themselves on the edge of the never never. It’s here in this strange land of the American Nightmare of agony where all our social ills are on display, refined by a skewed vision, a warped parallax of dread and terror. A place that on the surface is just another normal redneck town situated in Bigotsville U.S.A.; and yet under the tinsel city façade is another world, a hidden world of horror that thrives on murder and mayhem. It’s this darker world that peaks out from time to time in Miskowski’s narrative revealing its serpent’s head; and, yet, not stepping into the full light of time, but rather like a murky backwater wrapped in the flakes of cottonwood webs pulling us down into a deeper enigma from which there is neither escape nor redemption. This is Skillute’s riddle and enigma: a place where only death reigns supreme.


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S.P. Miskowski is a recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. Her stories have been published in Supernatural Tales, Black Static, Identity Theory, Strange Aeons and Eyedolon Magazine as well as in the anthologies Haunted Nights, The Madness of Dr. Caligari, October Dreams 2, Autumn Cthulhu, Cassilda’s Song, The Hyde Hotel, Darker Companions: Celebrating 50 Years of Ramsey Campbell, Tales from a Talking Board, Looming Low and The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten. Her second novel, I Wish I Was Like You, was named This Is Horror 2017 Novel of the Year. Her books have received three Shirley Jackson Award nominations and a Bram Stoker Award® nomination. Her M.F.A. is from the University of Washington. Her novels and novellas have been published by Omnium Gatherum, Dim Shores, Dunhams Manor Press and JournalStone/Trepidatio. She is represented by Danielle Svetcov at Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency.

Screen Life: Social Distancing as Norm

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.


  1. Ballard, J. G.. The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (p. 947). Norton. Kindle Edition.

The City In Ruins: Joel Lane’s Lost Distract

CaptureThe more I read Joel Lane (working through my second collection The Lost District..) I’ve begun to realize that the hidden monster roaming the underbelly of the Black Country is the cityscapes of late capitalism, the ruins it has left behind, the corruption and toxicity of its duplicitous deregulation and dehumanizing processes. It’s this more than even the stubborn misfits and darkening minds that inhabit his bleak inscapes which is the true anti-hero of his fictions. Knowing he was a committed Socialist makes me realize that his works are personal critiques of our dark days under the broken system of capitalist culture and society which Marx described as “dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” Joel’s ability to touch the human in the midst of this wasteland is at the core of this bleak vision, and knowing as he does that nothing in our time is not stained by this corruption gives you a sense of the horror that most of us try to pretend isn’t there. He makes you not only see what is right in front of your face, but also touch that which cannot be made visible: the bloody beast of capitalism itself wriggling like some demented archon of madness just below the threshold. As Ramsey Campbell once said of Joel:

“As for his own work, it was as profound as his critiques. It was driven by the political beliefs he passionately held without, to my knowledge, ever trying to impose them on anyone, and by his deep humanism and his sympathy for his characters, often the excluded or oppressed.”

 

A Somnambulant World

Sonnambulant

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.

Phantasmagoria

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…

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.

On Stephen King

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.

Weird Literature as Speculative Philosophy

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.


  1. Hamilton, Grant. The World of Failing Machines: Speculative Realism and Literature . John Hunt Publishing.

Joel Lane – One of the “Miserabilists”


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

Fanatic of the Decadents

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.

—Thomas Ligotti

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.

 

The Horror Maker

“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.

—Thomas Ligotti

We Speak Because We Are Dead

“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.

The Order of Impossible Salvation

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

Phantom Airfields – Christopher Slatsky

It all promised a life far more exciting than what was available here. Of better worlds where mysteries were benign, and parents couldn’t be destroyed in one brief moment.

—Christopher Slatsky,  The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature (Phantom Airfields)

I’ve been waiting to afford the paper back copy of Christopher Slatsky’s new offering The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature published by the good folks at Grimscribe Press. It arrived today and I’m relishing the moments ahead in which I will savor the dark and exploratory imaginings of these weird tales from a master who has been to the heart of darkness and back again.

I’ve written a short piece on his earlier work Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales.

I was going to wait to work through all of these tales but on reading the first in the series Phantom Airfields I was so deeply impacted by its deft handling of a dark subject of grief that I had to get down in words what I felt, what memories it awakened in my own mind.

What does one do with grief so palpable that it takes over not only one’s mind, but one’s complete existence? A grief that slowly erodes the barriers between sanity and insanity, leaving one in a dark and surreal world of nightmares without end? In a world where coping is not an option, and the only path forward is a return trip to an old WWII airfield of phantoms and darker dreams? This is the world of a young father whose only son has suddenly vanished into the inexplicable and impossible landscapes of nightmare. In such a world facts no longer hold our attention, only the most outlandish theories and scenarios will keep us going. If the mundane truth is revealed to us, a truth so apt that it smacks us in the dark places of our souls we must not accept it. No. We cannot accept such truths where child rapists and murderers, sadists and psychos exists on the edges of awareness.  We must seek out others, more impossible truths, fantastic tales of spacemen and alien abductions; yes, only the strange and improbable will keep us holding to a hope in our hopelessness.

On the surface we see the unraveling of a father’s mind, marriage, job, and existence slowly devolving into nothingness. But this is just the surface tension of the tale, the bare and minimalistic anchor of its narrative. It is the other tale, the tale of loss and tragedy, the undermining of both mind and landscape, the intermingling of those surreal breaks and psychotic interweaving’s that filter the world and our own thoughts and images in a realm in-between. It’s the place of no-place, this strangeness that brings with it a forbidden knowledge that no amount of therapy of common sense reasoning will ever touch.

Randall’s story of loss is our story as well. Have we not all lost something, someone? Have we not all clung to the desperate hope that we can reverse this dire process, somehow turn the clock back, retrieve the past from its cold recesses and lift it into our present moment. Regrets. Failures. The slow and methodical unraveling to our minds as we deny the present and seek out the temples of memory and desire. Sitting in his truck at the edge of an old airfield our protagonist ponders the world of pain: “Life doesn’t just pass from living to non-living; there were quiet moments in between, little snatches of sleep and dream and hope along the way. Such thoughts helped him get through each day.”1

Isn’t this what we all do? Seek out those few thoughts that will get us through each day? Otherwise we’d all end it right now, wouldn’t we? Certain landscapes become inscapes of our mind and memories commingle to shape our lives, give us back again certain indefinable thoughts. A geography of the imagination and imaginal: “This geography drew him in, spoke in a language that refused to be ignored. Here the ground kept luring him back, seducing him to walk among the broken buildings.” (ibid.) Randall returns again and again to this site, this place of no-place where his son vanished one day inexplicably into thin air. It’s the grief and madness of this loss that has left him in utter despair, ruined his marriage, his job, his life. Only this secret haven of snow and waste, a ghost world of phantoms and old WWII planes and buildings in disarray will serve his needs.

Filled with such grief he is tormented by aliens and spacemen, toys and children’s playthings. The real world of detectives, investigations, lurid photo books of dead children’s corpses, none of this will hold him anymore. Randall does not want the truth, he needs his fictions, anchors and supports of madness and insanity are the only thing that will keep him alive now. “He’d stopped returning the detective’s phone calls. Cooperating with the investigation meant accepting their interpretation of events. He was done sifting through photos of children’s corpses. Done with everything.” (ibid.)

In such states of mind reality is the last thing one wants. No. In the world of grief one only wants escape, fantasy, the drift of nonsense and sense commingling in the artifices of edge lands and ruinous landscapes, portals in-between worlds where the possibility of awakening that lost memory may be the only thing that can keep one alive. And yet even this will not hold, the world outward only brings knowledge of the impossibility of finding any comfort whatsoever. Randall while on one of his jaunts into the haunted landscapes of the airbase sees a Raven that reminds him of this stark truth:

A raven dipped its beak into a puddle of antifreeze fluid on the pockmarked blacktop that led to the trailer park. It shook its head. Feathers rippled like fur. Randall felt a pang of remorse. This creature meant no ill will, was only obeying its basic survival needs. But the poison would finish it off soon enough. (ibid.)

Maybe this is what Randall needed after all. To know that nothing matters, that in the end we will all drink the poison of life to the last dregs willingly or not. That nothing we do or say will make an iota of difference, change nothing of the past, nor bring our dead loved ones back from their dark places. In this tale of Christopher’s there is a subtle power of sublime terror and dread that leaves us in awe of this truth, but I will not reveal its nihilistic light here. You must read and ponder it yourself…

Randall even in the downward turn toward madness reveals a subtle irony and truth we should all ponder, a truth that even though on the surface trite and full of that home grown wisdom and custom brings out an ancient notion: “The haunted were capable of depths of compassion most were not capable of expressing. Those who’d suffered tragedy were less likely to trivialize the tragic.” (ibid.)

Maybe in the end this is the only wisdom for the grieved and mad in this world of horrors.


  1. Slatsky, Christopher. The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature . Grimscribe Press. (January 28, 2020) Find a copy on Grimscribe Press site: here.

A Sense of Doom

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

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.

 

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…

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)

New Interview with Matt Cardin

New interview with Matt Cardin, author of ‘To Rouse Leviathan’ with Laura Kemmerer is out on Sublime Horror.

LC: What would you say are the core underpinning themes and ideas in your work?

MC: The horror of consciousness, and more specifically, self-awareness. Intimations or suspicions of something fundamentally grotesque and nightmarish at the core of existence itself. The inescapable sense of being drawn to find a metanarrative, a pattern, a God’ s-eye view and understanding of one’s experience and the world at large, and then of being horrified at the revelation that this overall pattern and meaning are actually hideous and unbearable. That life isn’t meaningless, it’s meaningful – and the meaning is awful. The fear that God by whatever name, under whatever cultural guise, may be monstrous. The sense not only of horror but of unbearable loss, grief, and despair that accompanies such a sense of things. The related fear or possibility that artistic and intellectual creativity carry profound dangers because they serve as portals to and for that nightmarish primal ontological reality to communicate itself and corrupt or destroy the artist.

I might pause to add that in my actual everyday existence I’m a living embodiment of Flaubert’s famous advice to “be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Interview: https://www.sublimehorror.com/books/matt-cardin-interview-to-rouse-leviathan/

The Marionette Machine

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

—Thomas Ligotti,  The Conspiracy against the Human Race

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

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

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No Turning Back Now: Generation Null

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

—Bernard Stiegler,  The Age of Disruption

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

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

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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/