The Nightmare of History

The Great Transition:

Breakthrough or Breakdown?

I think one of my fascinations with horror is that we are in the midst of a great transition, a crisis in human history the likes of which has not been faced before. I think a lot of this is a reflection on our current world view, the crisis of the whole World System of Enlightenment: Progress (i.e., human perfectibility), Humanism (i.e., Man as the Center and Circumference of meaning, etc.), and our Scientific-Technological paradigm under the thumb of the Market is breaking down or breaking through the ideological edifice that has ruled Nationalism, Politics, and the Socio-Cultural spectrum since the Enlightenment. All of this has failed, and people are grasping at anything to hold onto that will give their lives meaning, even if it is pure and unadulterated Weird and Eerie inventions out of the Impossible. Irrationalism is everywhere, while extreme modes of hyper-rationalism as in Reza Negarestani’s Spirit and Intelligence are pushing the inhumanism of another sort. It’s a tale as old as humans… just played out with a different set of props on a new stage awaiting its final telling…

Ever since Nietzsche formulated the notion of nihilism (which had been there before him, he just crystalized it), thinkers, artists, philosophers, writers… all have grappled with this non-meaning and valueless indifference and impersonalism of the universe without the old myths of God(s). We’re alone, without recourse in a realm that knows us not, and could care less one way or the other. Scientists have followed this trail into both the most distant macro-vision and the closest micro-vision of the empirical universe till our instruments fail. Philsophers pushed both the Continental and Analytical streams of linguistic, structural, post-structural modes of thought to their anti-realist implosion. Now we seem to exist on the edge of a Post-Kantian world-view that has yet to establish a language: a theory of meaning. So that we have entered what my friend the skeptic R. Scott Bakker terms a “crash space” in which there is a mere cacophony of competing voices vying in the black hole of non-meaning (nihilism). Knowledge has failed in a world that has accumulated more of it than at any other time in history.

Modernism was the last gasp of the dying regime as T.S. Eliot bequeathed: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins…” (The Wasteland). This sense of desperation in all those artists who sought to hold fast to what remained of the humanistic heritage, plug up the holes in leaky system that was plunging into ruins and chaos. Yet, if failed, and the deluge of post-modernity (so-called) swept away the failures and produced a successive set of destructive-deconstructive demolitions that would wipe out all trace of going back, returning to the worlds of humanistic intent and security. Instead satire, cynicism, despair, and pessimism began their long descent into closure to the point that the last great voice of that era, Samuel Beckett would opine: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” A sort of courage of our hopelessness…

We seek a way out, and find none. We ponder the realization of human defeat by its own hand as the Anthropcene enters the great Sixth Extinction that scientists say is now happening. We have climate degradation, and a multitude of othere natural and man-made disasters that seem always just at the edge of our awareness. All of this makes reality itself in our time the greatest horror story ever told. It’s like James Joyce once said:

‘History…  is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’

Many will till their dying breath seek to discover a way forward, a way to survive the depredations ahead of us. Many will struggle and many will die. The earth has been around a long time and was here before us, and will be here after us. We as humans are truly at the point that we must decide how to proceed. The Left nor Right hold the answers to our dilemma. There is no political fix for our present predicament. What we face is truly the unknown as unknown. We must move toward this new world with our eyes open, shedding all the self-deceptions and biases that have brought us to the point of self-annihilation. Without a clearing of the house of knowledge and thought we will be left in a civil-war across our planet. This is a time for renewal, a time to awaken those deep forces of emergent thought that can meet the unknown without grasping for our old failed ways. It’s up to us, no one else can do it for us. There is no would-be savior going to arise in our midst and show us the light. The only light left to us is the nihil light of emptiness and the void.

Two tendencies in critical horror…


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

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

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

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

The Challenge of Horror: The Fragility of Existence

 

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

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

Continue reading

The Horror Story of Climate Denialism

Self-Deception as the Art of Prediction, Illusion, and Ideological Destruction

I provide three quotes below which summed up provide us a road map to why humans are so prone to error, bias, illusion, and self-deception. Over eons of evolutionary time we developed the need to predict the future, to anticipate ahead of time what may happen a few moments down the pipe: our lives depended on it. So we began projecting information, filling in the blank spaces of our inadequate knowledge with illusion based on past experience. Sometimes we got it right, sometimes not. But as we began developing closer ties to others, developing social systems, this once proud predictive tool became a tool for deceit, lying, and deception not only of ourselves but others so that we developed whole cultures out of a tissue of lies and myths to support systems of power, control, and oppression by the few over the many. And, yet, that very evolutionary selective process that once helped us survive in the wilderness, the natural world of danger and suffering, has now in our artificial world of technocivilization become a tool for self-destruction by way of deceit and self-deception on a global scale. We’ve built systems of self-deceptive ideological constructs out of world-wide mediatainment and the political and socio-cultural illusions  that have produced Climate Change Denialism that is leading us into a dangerous territory of illusion and self-deceptive forms of deceit by beings whose only agenda is to sacrifice the majority  of humans on the planet for the benefit of the few. Simply put we are living in a horror story in which reality is a complete and utter artificial lie propagated by systems of ideological propaganda that no longer appears as such.


E.H. Grumbrich in his classic work Art and Illusion describes our powers of anticipation, our ability to see ahead of things, to master the unknown by filling in the blanks, selecting the blind spots in our visual fields and placing imaginative leaps of information into the holes. He terms this projection after the early psychologies of the 20th Century. He’ll put it more simply as “Expectation creates Illusion.” And that is the condition of all Art.

Andy Clark on the Predictive Mind:

“The mystery is, and remains, how mere matter manages to give rise to thinking, imagining, dreaming, and the whole smorgasbord of mentality, emotion, and intelligent action. Thinking matter, dreaming matter, conscious matter: that’s the thing that it’s hard to get your head—whatever it’s made of—around. But there is an emerging clue.”

“The clue can be summed up in a single word: prediction. To deal rapidly and fluently with an uncertain and noisy world, brains like ours have become masters of prediction—surfing the waves of noisy and ambiguous sensory stimulation by, in effect, trying to stay just ahead of them. A skilled surfer stays ‘in the pocket’: close to, yet just ahead of the place where the wave is breaking. This provides power and, when the wave breaks, it does not catch her. The brain’s task is not dissimilar. By constantly attempting to predict the incoming sensory signal we become able—in ways we shall soon explore in detail—to learn about the world around us and to engage that world in thought and action. Successful, world-engaging prediction is not easy. It depends crucially upon simultaneously estimating the state of the world and our own sensory uncertainty. But get that right, and active agents can both know and behaviourally engage their worlds, safely riding wave upon wave of sensory stimulation.”1

Robert Trivers in Deceit and Self-Deception will ask:

“Whence self-deception? Why do we possess marvelous sense organs to detect information only to distort it upon arrival? … Together our sensory systems are organized to give us a detailed and accurate view of reality, exactly as we would expect if truth about the outside world helps us to navigate it more effectively. But once this information arrives in our brains, it is often distorted and biased to our conscious minds. We deny the truth to ourselves. We project onto others traits that are in fact true of ourselves—and then attack them! We repress painful memories, create completely false ones, rationalize immoral behavior, act repeatedly to boost positive self-opinion, and show a suite of ego-defense mechanisms. Why?”

His answer:

“The central claim of this book is that self-deception evolves in the service of deception—the better to fool others. Sometimes it also benefits deception by saving on cognitive load during the act, and at times it also provides an easy defense against accusations of deception (namely, I was unconscious of my actions). In the first case, the self-deceived fails to give off the cues that go with consciously mediated deception, thus escaping detection. In the second, the actual process of deception is rendered cognitively less expensive by keeping part of the truth in the unconscious. That is, the brain can act more efficiently when it is unaware of the ongoing contradiction. And in the third case, the deception, when detected, is more easily defended against—that is, rationalized— to others as being unconsciously propagated. In some cases, self-deception may give a direct personal advantage by at least temporarily elevating the organism into a more productive state, but most of the time such elevation occurs without self-deception.”2

1. Andy Clark. Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind . Oxford University Press.
2. Trivers, Rober. Deceit and Self-Deception

Articulating the Impossible: Horror as Communication


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

The Truth of Horror

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

—Thomas Ligotti, The Consolations of Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Road to the Unreal

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

—Thomas Ligotti, Vastarien

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

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

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

The Daemonic Quest

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

—Thomas Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

 

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

Simon Strantzas: Antripuu a Folk Horror Story

A good story can make you forget about the bad stories, even if the bad stories are all you want to believe. All you’ve ever told yourself. And sometimes you have to choose to believe the good stories, even when it feels like there’s no choice at all.

—Simon Strantzas, Antripuu Nightmare Magazine, Issue 82

Simon Strantzas tales are well known to aficionados of the horror and weird tale scene. A writer who hales from Toronto, Canada, Simon has published several notable short story collections: Beneath the Surface, Cold to the Touch, Nightingale Songs Burnt Black Suns, and his latest – Nothing is Everything (here!)

Recently he’s published a tale in Nightmare Magazine: Antripuu, a tale of forests, storms, and mysterious creatures right out of some ancient tale of darkness and old world folklore. During the Middle Ages, countless texts were literally teeming with fantastic passages, sometimes accompanied by an explanation but more often presented with impenetrable brevity. They implicitly refer to the existence of an occult world, the laws of which are also in force on this plane.1

In many of these folk tales we discover monstrous and unknown forces that exist sometimes in various shapes, such as that of a human or animal, or even an inanimate object. Hybrid creatures as ancient as the earth herself, creatures that have no regard for the human ways and live in a pre-dawn age of amoral forces that live by one code: sex and survival. Such beings sustain themselves by a relentless pursuit of their prey, an almost impersonal force of hunger driving them forward.

Simon’s work recasts this ancient world within the confines of a modern day tale of horror, friendship, and loss. And, yet, there is a sense of the courage of hopelessness as well, of a Schopenhauerian will-to-live that drives these humans to certain choices and decisions. This is a tale of three friends who have gone stale in their work-a-day lives, and have need for adventure and a reaffirmation of their youth and vigor.

The tale leads the three friends into a forest outside their home town where they will confront not only the dark and unknown forces of the natural order, but those of an unnatural order that very few are willing to admit too, much less accept as real. The tale is told in media-res, upfront and personal. The main character confronts his own ghosts, his own failure in life, work, and love. There’s a sense that something needed to happen, that his was a real life tale gone sour while his friends seemed both successful and complete. It’s as if something is missing in his life, as if he need some kind of shock therapy to push him away from the desperate and suicidal course he’d set himself toward. And in this adventure he gets it, but not in the way he expected. Everything about the tale is relentless, driving you on the edge of your seat from event to event, never leaving you to rest on your laurels but pushing those horror buttons of expectation and emotional fear to the extreme limits and then dropping you off in a ravine of doubt and terror where hope itself seems more like a rushing river of pain that a safety valve of escape.

I’ll not go into the details of the story itself, you can find it on Nightmare Magazine: http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/ 

While you’re there pick up a subscription, too. And, by the way, you can listen to Simon’s tale on their podcast as a bonus!

Enjoy the ride!


  1. Lecouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land: Ancestral Lore and Practices Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.

“The Ascrobius Escapade”: Thomas Ligotti and the Uncreated Life

To exile oneself from every earthly country.
—Simone Weil, Decreation

A dummy’s silence is the most soothing silence of all, and his stillness is the perfect stillness of the unborn.
—Thomas Ligotti, Dr. Voke and Mr. Leech

Is it possible not only to erase one’s self – one’s ego, but to erase one’s entire existence ‘as if’ it had never been; as if the accumulated history, the stain of one’s existence on earth had never occurred?

Thomas Ligotti in the first tale of his series of tales within tales IN A FOREIGN TOWN, IN A FOREIGN LAND: HIS SHADOW SHALL RISE TO A HIGHER HOUSE will offer such a strange theory through a self-professed doctor, Klatt, upon a man who not only died but erased his burial site and its very existence:

‘What Ascrobius sought,’ the doctor explained, ‘was not a remedy for his physical disease, not a cure in any usual sense of the word. What he sought was an absolute annulment, not only of his disease but of his entire existence. On rare occasions he even spoke to me,’ the doctor said, ‘about the uncreation of his whole life.’1

All of this started when the said Ascrobius, a recluse and physically grotesque denizen of the northern town on the border of an ill-defined country took ill and died. His body buried outside the town in a graveyard on a hill among former citizens has suddenly vanished along with any signs that it ever existed. Klatt against the unwritten rules of the locals has been ‘meddling’ in anecdotal gossip as to what might have transpired. And upon revealing to the tale teller and others a new bit of information about the details of Ascrobius’s demise he has now implicated all of them in this meddling which will be termed the “Ascrobius’ Escapade”.

As Klatt tells it: ‘You see what has happened,’ Dr Klatt said to us. ‘He has annulled his diseased and nightmarish existence, leaving us with an uncreated grave on our hands.’

After revealing such a meddlesome affair and implicating many of its members the entire town entered into gossip to the point of hysteria, coming to the conclusion that such an unnatural affair could not go without judgement: “Someone would have to atone for that uncreated existence…”.

Well, as expected, our minister of gossip, Klatt offers a solution to the whole affair: a young and unintelligent specimen will need to be sacrificed to the uncreated malevolence that seems to have overtaken the town’s normal lunacy. So a young woman from one Mrs. Glimm’s tavern is sent to the graveyard on the hill at midnight in the cover of complete darkness. Well, one can imagine what transpires, the young woman is found the next day by a nosy and curious group of sober citizens at the very site of the uncreated grave, her body skinned alive and her torso set up as a gravestone. At such horror the citizens demand that she be given a proper burial, but Mrs. Glimm more intelligent than she appears tells them this might not be a good idea and that they should leave things as is. So nothing is done. And, in a few days, the whole affair is forgotten, the terrors of the uncreated gone, and the citizenry back to their normal lives (if you can call it normal!).

But this is not the end of the tale. No. After a few weeks it is discovered that Klatt has gone missing, and that a new resident has taken up living in the former house of Ascrobius. But as our anonymous storyteller informs us,

Afterward all speculation about what had come to be known as the ‘resurrection of the uncreated’ remained in the realm of twilight talk. Yet as I now lie in my bed, listening to the wind and the scraping of bare branches on the roof just above me, I cannot help remaining wide awake with visions of that deformed specter of Ascrobius and pondering upon what unimaginable planes of contemplation it dreams of another act of uncreation, a new and far-reaching effort of great power and more certain permanence. Nor do I welcome the thought that one day someone may notice that a particular house appears to be missing, or absent, from the place it once occupied along the backstreet of a town near the northern border.

Thomas Ligotti in The Conspiracy against the Human Race states his notions concerning the concept of the “uncreated” saying,

For pessimists, life is something that should not be, which means that what they believe should be is the absence of life, nothing, non-being, the emptiness of the uncreated. Anyone who speaks up for life as something that irrefutably should be— that we would not be better off unborn, extinct, or forever lazing in nonexistence— is an optimist. It is all or nothing; one is in or one is out, abstractly speaking. Practically speaking, we have been a race of optimists since the nascency of human consciousness and lean like mad toward the favorable pole.2

The Jains of India believe the soul of each living being is unique and uncreated and has existed since beginningless time.3 Anne Carson the poetess in her essay on Decreation – How Women Like Sappho, Marguerite Porete, and Simone Weil Tell God mentions:

Simone Weil was also a person who wanted to get herself out of the way so as to arrive at God. “The self,” she says in one of her notebooks, “is only a shadow projected by sin and error which blocks God’s light and which I take for a Being.” She had a program for getting the self out of the way which she called “decreation.” This word is a neologism to which she did not give an exact definition nor a consistent spelling. “To undo the creature in us” is one of the ways she describes its aim.4

As another commentator says of Weil: “The method of approaching the sacred Weil calls “decreation,” as a de-incarnation of the person, a method for attaining the impersonal for which solitude is a prerequisite. Decreation is “to make something created pass into the uncreated.” This is distinct from the thing passing into destruction, passing into nothingness.”5 In her poem “Decreation” Simon Weil reiterates this notion:

It is necessary not to be “myself,” still less to be “ourselves.”
The city gives one the feeling of being at home.
We must take the feeling of being at home into exile
We must be rooted in the absence of a place.
To uproot oneself socially and vegetatively.
To exile oneself from every earthly country.
To all that to others, from the outside, is a substitute for decreation and results in unreality
For by uprooting oneself one seeks greater reality.

This sense of uprooting, a decreation of one’s life both physically and spiritually in a process of unmaking, an unraveling into the unreal and entering into the exile from one’s place in the order of creation by an uncreation is hinted at by secular underpinnings of Ligotti’s tales as well. In The Last Feast of Harlequin an assembly is gathered singing of the blessed unborn, the uncreated:

The entire assembly, which had remained speechless until this moment, broke into the most horrendous high-pitched singing that can be imagined. It was a choir of sorrow, of shrieking delirium, and of shame. The cavern rang shrilly with the dissonant, whining chorus. My voice, too, was added to the congregation’s, trying to blend with their maimed music. But my singing could not imitate theirs, having a huskiness unlike their cacophonous keening wail. To keep from exposing myself as an intruder I continued to mouth their words without sound. These words were a revelation of the moody malignancy which until then I had no more than sensed whenever in the presence of these figures. They were singing to the “unborn in paradise,” to the “pure unlived lives.” They sang a dirge for existence, for all its vital forms and seasons. Their ideals were those of darkness, chaos, and a melancholy half-existence consecrated to all the many shapes of death.6

Maybe the unborn like Ascrobius are not those in some mythos of heaven awaiting birth, but are in fact the secret few, the lucky one’s of a dark order of alchemy who have learned the subtle arts of uncreation and diminishment; a slow reversal in the time flows of the inexplicable processes of the universal corruption. Maybe they have opened a hole in the fabric of space-time, an entrance not into some majestic heaven, but rather a passage into the labyrinths of an infernal paradise where the seeds of a new darkness, the uncreated and unborn children of a new promised kingdom of unnatural desires now reside in perfect silence and shadow; their unlived lives shaping and shaped by their sacrifice to the unknown malevolence of all decreation.


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. Teatro Grottesco. Mythos Books LLC; 1st edition (November 30, 2007)
  2. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 47). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Nayanar, Prof. A. Chakravarti (2005). Samayasāra of Ācārya Kundakunda. New Delhi: Today & Tomorrows Printer and Publisher.
  4.  Carson, Anne. Decreation – How Women Like Sappho, Marguerite Porete, and Simone Weil Tell God. Common Knowledge Volume 8, Issue 1, Winter 2002 Duke University Press
  5. Some of the more representative works of Simone Weil are her First and Last Notebooks, translated by Richard Rees. Oxford: Oxford university Press, 1970; Gravity and Grace. Putnam, 1952; Oppression and Liberty, London: , New York: Routledge & K. Paul, ? The most representative anthology is The Simone Weil Reader; edited by George A. Panichas. Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell, 1977.
  6.  Ligotti, Thomas. The Nightmare Factory. Carroll & Graf (June 27, 1996)

One Imagines a Darker Journey…

Quite frankly, it seemed as if each one of us stretched his entire imagination to persuade himself of terrible, irreplaceable losses…

—Hermann Hesse, The Journey to the East

Decided today to reread Herman Hesse’s The Journey to the East. Hesse’s work is part of that idealist Jungianism that seemed to pervade post-WWI literature. Some of the literature would wreak of violence and nihilism, others of the influx of Dada, Surrealism and the fascination with the decadent strains in our literature and heritage. Hesse had tinges of all these aspects woven in with the Romantic traditions… the fascination with the literature of India and its ancient religious worlds.

Sometimes I want to rewrite Hesse’s The Journey to the East with Thomas Ligotti’s lens… a movement into the nightmare regions of the infernal paradise that throughout his tales he offers us fragments and liminal windows onto… yet, for me it would not be of the East as in Hesse, but as in Ligotti’s darker sense of a realm of aesthetic beauty in horror, corruption, and ruin; a blasted cosmos of frightful extravagance and liminal edges of unending terror and rapture…

Here is Hesse’s opening paragraph:

“It was my destiny to join in a great experience. Having had the good fortune to belong to the League, I was permitted to be a participant in a unique journey. What wonder it had at the time! How radiant and comet-like it seemed, and how quickly it has been forgotten and allowed to fall into disrespute. For this reason, I have decided to attempt a short description of this fabulous journey, a journey the like of which had not been attempted since the days of Hugo and mad Roland. Ours have been remarkable times, this period since the World War, troubled and confused, yet, despite this, fertile. I do not think that I am under any illusion about the difficulties of my attempt; they are very great and are not only of a subjective nature, although these alone would be considerable. For not only do I no longer possess the tokens, mementos, documents and diaries relating to the journey, but in the difficult years of misfortune, sickness and deep affliction which have elapsed since then, a large number of my recollections have also vanished. As a result of the buffets of Fate and because of the continual discouragement, my memory as well as my confidence in these earlier vivid recollections have become impaired. But apart from these purely personal notes, I am handicapped because of my former vow to the League; for although this vow permits unrestricted communication of my personal experiences, it forbids any disclosures about the League itself. And even though the League seems to have had no visible existence for a long time and I have not seen any of its members again, no allurement or threat in the world would induce me to break my vow. On the contrary, if today or tomorrow I had to appear before a court-martial and was given the option of dying or divulging the secret of the League, I would joyously seal my vow to the League with death.”


  1. Hermann Hesse. The Journey to the East (Kindle Locations 12-24). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition

“The Cosmic Hypnotist”: Hypnosis, Mesmerism, and Gnosticism in Thomas Ligotti

Soon I will put my dreaming in the hands of greater forces, and I’m sure there will be some surprises for both of us. That is one thing which never changes.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Chemyst

This morning when I woke up began tracing the various uses of hypnotism in Thomas Ligotti’s tales. Fascinating how he associated this 19th Century mesmeric art with its double-edged use to blind or reveal.

In an interview with E.M. Angerhuber and Thomas Wagner: Disillusionment Can Be Glamorous Thomas Ligotti is asked if he thinks “cosmic evil is an enhanced or horror, compared to the evil of a single character?” Speaking of his early story “The Chymist” is one of the characters who possesses a “dark power,” but that “power is only an instance of a greater power at large”. Behind this is the power of “Nature” itself Ligotti states, which “tirelessly produces mutations and permutations using human flesh…”. In “The Sect of the Idiot” he’ll describe this power behind the sect of hooded ones – “those freaks who were among those who were hypnotized”:

“For there was a power superseding theirs, a power which they served and from which they merely emanated, something which was beyond the universal hypnosis by virtue of its very mindlessness, its awesome idiocy. These cloaked masters, in turn, partook in some measure of godhood, passively presiding as enlightened zombies over the multitudes of the entranced, that frenetic domain of the human.”

This mindless idiot behind the scenes reminds me of Ligotti’s statements about the Gnostics in the Conspiracy:

“The second of Zapffe’s two central determinations— that our species should belay reproducing itself— immediately brings to mind a cast of characters from theological history known as Gnostics. The Gnostic sect of the Cathari in twelfth-century France were so tenacious in believing the world to be an evil place engendered by an evil deity that its members were offered a dual ultimatum: sexual abstinence or sodomy. (A similar sect in Bulgaria, the Bogomils, became the etymological origin of the term “buggery” for their practice of this mode of erotic release.) Around the same period, the Catholic Church mandated abstinence for its clerics, a directive that did not halt them from betimes giving in to sexual quickening. The raison d’être for this doctrine was the attainment of grace (and in legend was obligatory for those scouring hither and yon for the Holy Grail) rather than an enlightened governance of reproductive plugs and bungholes. With these exceptions, the Church did not counsel its followers to imitate its ascetic founder but sagaciously welcomed them to breed as copiously as they could.”

Knowing that Ligotti has read deeply in these ancient heterodoxies underpins his use and parodic inversion of the soteriological allegories of these sects towards his own ends. One thinks of the case of Arthur Emerson in “The Prodigy of Dreams” associating it with an active power to enter other zones of being:

“Only on rare occasions could he enter these unseen spaces, and always unexpectedly. A striking experience of this kind took place in his childhood years and involved a previous generation of swans which he had paused one summer afternoon to contemplate from a knoll by the lake. Perhaps their smooth drifting and gliding upon the water had induced in him something like a hypnotic state. The ultimate effect, however, was not the serene catatonia of hypnosis, but a whirling flight through a glittering threshold which opened within the air itself, propelling him into a kaleidoscopic universe where space consisted only of multi-colored and ever-changing currents, as of wind or water, and where time did not exist.”

This sense of “whirling flight” as compared to the “serene catatonia” of the mesmerizer’s variety of hypnotic effect. One remembers the hypnotist psychologist in “Dream of a Manikin” who describes Mrs. Locher’s dreams under hypnosis. Here the power of the deity of dream “splintering and scarring itself to relieve its cosmic ennui,” or the “solipsistic dream deity commanding all it sees, all of which is only itself,” the implications of which “suggest the basic horror and disgusting unreality of its implications.”

So many of these variations of the dark god of dreams, hypnotism, and unreality crop up throughout various stories describing the notion of a malevolent power in Nature supervening in a sadomasochistic drama of manipulation, and at the same time allowing certain favored ones to awaken from the hypnosis and enter the infernal paradise of this entity’s realm unbidden.

There is Victor Kierion in “Vastarien” whose infernal book unlocks the keys to this dream kingdom of nightmares: “the hypnotic episodes of the little book; each night, as he dreamed, he carried out shapeless expeditions into its fantastic topography. To all appearances it seemed he had discovered the summit or abyss of the unreal, that paradise of exhaustion, confusion, and debris where reality ends and where one may dwell among its ruins.”

More to think through… Year’s ago reading Angus Fletcher’s great work on Allegory and the ancient tension between the various levels of exegesis and commentary one realizes that Ligotti’s art is much more subtle than many might know or understand. On the surface each story seems to plot a basic horror scenario, a nightmare that can be understood at the base level of common sense portrayal. But if one takes a more rigorous approach one discovers layers of structure and dimensions within his work that lead to more extensive subsurface meanings and connections leading outwardly to philosophy, religion, ethics, and other subtle implications.

Just more grist for the mill…

A Tale of Chicken and Horror; or, How I Became a Weird Writer

Jim Stark: I don’t know what to do anymore. Except maybe die.

—James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause

Maybe my fascination with the fantastic, weird, and horrible began on a dark night in 1954 when my family was coming home from a weekend in Lubbock, TX. Of course I was too young to remember what was happening (unless my body itself carries the trauma in some deep place of the subliminal physical systems). I was only informed of it years after…

At that time there was a strange game of life and death that foolish young teenagers seemed to relish… a movie was made of this later on – Rebel Without A Cause, starring James Dean. The game was Chicken… yet, unlike the movie my family was suddenly thrust into a real life situation of three young punks who’d decided to run their truck head-on into a random car on a road just outside Andrews, TX – a road in which it would be next to impossible to turn off into the fields because of deep ravines, and / or cross the median because of trees planted by the Texas Highway Department.

Needless to say my father tried his best to swerve and miss the truck barreling into our old Chevy sedan. It didn’t work, and our car was demolished, my Mom suffered a broken neck and legs crushed, my Sis almost died suffocating under the back seat as it flipped up and tumbled over her (she was a baby), and I was thrown across the back seat in a swirl of tumbling glass and metal breaking my arms, legs, and pelvis unable to walk for years. My Dad luckily did not go unconscious, and with his ribs crushed by the steering wheel, and his head damaged severely by rocketing through the front windshield he pulled us all out of the vehicle before it blew up after the engine started a fire and the gas finally burst… then he waited for help. Once it came he passed out… We all woke in the hospital and would remain there for months.

The three punks has used an old mattress and were unharmed… I want go into the bitter details afterword… and the years of recovery. Only that this traumatic even would haunt me as I grew up… one of my legs is shorter than the other because of it so that I’ve had spinal issues and other problems that relate even now to many of my problems in old age… but, hey, it’s life and not a dam thing you can do about it but learn to laugh…

Yet, it was this unlikely event that made me question later on about fate and determinism,  chance and necessity, coincidence and synchronicity, along with all the other strange reasons why it was my family suddenly plunged into this horror in a singular strange moment right out of the twilight zone of weirdness… maybe my whole philosophical outlook on life was generated in that moment. Who knows? All I know it was from the moment I became fully aware of this event I realized the world is not what it seems… and is much more sinister than most of us would like to believe.

I’ve often wondered at what point did we enter an alternate world, a different time-line, a realm of some strange and nefarious weirdness that left us marooned in a place that was not our place, a world that was not our world. I still don’t know, and yet something in me does.

Gnostic Inversion: Navigating the “Mundus Imaginalis”

One could say I’m an inverted Gnostic of sorts, except that in my own view the ancient Gnostic’s literalized or ontologized their perceptions and thought of the Real. Following Plato they sought to escape this ‘world’ – the literal universe of evil as they termed it, whereas for me there is no transcension of this realm: this is it, there isn’t any supernal paradise of light sitting on the other side of that great abyss of darkness and night; and yet, what we discover is not a literal dichotomy or separation as in Plato’s two-worlds theory of a supernal eternal realm of Ideas and a mundane and evil realm of delusion, but rather it is our Mind’s, our Brains that have locked us into a perception of the world controlled by political, social, cultural, religious, and philosophical malfeasance. The world in-itself is not evil, what is evil is the dominion of our minds and hearts under regimes of power in high places that have constructed an Iron Prison of thought and feeling to trap us and suck our desires dry for their own sustenance and pleasure.

It is against the rulers of this dark prison world of mind, the Oligarchs, Plutocrats, philosophical and religious overlords of our ideological realms of acceptable thought and truth, spin doctors of political and social crapology, we fight and resist in this new gnosis. We seek to exit this system of lies, bullshit, and deceit even as we unravel and destroy its symbolic hold over our lives. For years I struggled against the separation of religious and secular forms that entrap us to false infinities: to a metaphysics of defeat and despair, pessimism and doom. Most of the world is oriented to trap us in a sense of despair and doom to make us dependent and needy, so that we will allow the State to supervene in our lives and offer assistance and numbing drugs, pharmaceuticals, therapies, etc. to realign us to its prison system and put us back asleep, provide us a perfect road to oblivion becoming in the process robotically compliant to the work and labour of creating surplus value for the wealthy and powerful. What these fat cat wannabee Archons of bullshit seek above all is a hypernormalised society of stupids they can suck dry for their own sadomasochistic pleasures… who the hell wants that?

It’s time to exit the zoo of this dark world, make our way toward a fucking real planet where people can learn to give a shit again about themselves and others, stop pounding each other with bombs and death; stop hustling the innocent and needy migrants into cages; stop colluding with a system of Death that has made us all into zombie maniacs…

Gnostic Inversion: From Literal to Figurative Breakout

People tend to confuse my use of the ancient Gnostic mythos with its literal religious extremism of ascetic or libertine valences.

I tend to agree with many fantastic, weird, and horror tale writers that there is as Ibn Arabi once suggested an ‘Mundus Imaginalis’ – a site of no site outside our brains filtering processes where our language and thought perceive the traces of an imaginative realm not bound by our human all too human prison of consciousness. Not unlike modern quantum physics that models these invisible processes beyond the threshold of our ability to know with symbolic relations (i.e., in the case of physics with mathematic models that then may take decades to prove, etc.). It’s this in-between realm between what we perceive to be and what ‘is’ that what Zizek-Lacan term the Real is confronted – any realism is confronted by what resists us rather than by any logic or systematic effort on our part to construct it. The Real is that which is invisible to our empirical relations to the world accept as it impinges on those factual facticities.

Mundus Imaginalis

Henri Corbin (1903 – 1978) a Sufi scholar coined the term “Mundus Imaginalis” to explain to Westerners the Sufi account of a territory that exists between the physical, sensory world and the spirit world (which Plato saw as consisting of ideal forms, but which some conceptualize as formless). This intermediate world has its own consistent topography, but is also constantly influenced and shaped by the physical and the spiritual worlds.

In my own account there is no Platonic world of forms, Ideas; there is as dialectical materialism suggests the appearance of appearance in which form and formless interject into each other influences which are neither the one or the other but commingle in this intermediate realm to produce something of a Third Relation. Ideas (forms) arise with appearances as in quantum mechanics particles arise and vanish contiguously.

At the border of consciousness we become entangled with what is not-conscious (i.e., what our brain filters out and we cannot thereby perceive as ‘real’). It’s on this border in-between that we commingle with the Outside in the ‘Mundus Imaginalis’ influenced by and influencing each other.

Corbin also used the term “active imagination,” which he may have got from Jung, or may have developed simultaneously. It is a method of perception and exploration that is supposed to straddle the physical world and the Mundus Imaginalis, allowing interplay between them. That our brains through evolutionary processes have closed the door on most of what is, giving us only what we need to survive and propagate we struggle to understand the forces, things, entities outside that filter. It’s the negotiation between form and formlessness, the navigation of the Outside which resists us; this strange realm of intermediation in which reality as it is against the reality we know and perceive that structures the Real.

Against any naïve realism the current crop of speculative realists suggest that the world is not as it seems, but is much more non-human than we can even imagine. We’ve allowed our all-too-centered human concerns for survival and propagation to bind us to the genetic codes and filters of our brain’s basic and integral function as an evolutionary process. In our own time this is being questioned, and doors onto advancing out of and past our own minimalistic brain functions through external process of self-fabrication and self-evolutionary processes of experimentation may one day take us far beyond the embedded state of our physical being as humans. What David Roden in his disconnection thesis projects through every widening exits of Wide Humans into the singularity of some posthuman other (of which we cannot know or speak at present).

To me the use of Gnostic mythos as philosophical allegory rather than a literalist belief in actual entities beyond our perception. I use it as a tool to unlock our ideological constructs and mental prisons that those in power seek to use to control society. Whatever the religious use of it was is beyond me, I use horror and the weird as tools to embrace an alternative vision; and, although it appears to accept the dictum of a malevolence behind the curtain so to speak, this should not in my mind be taken ‘literally’, but figuratively as a trope of the mind’s quest to break through the ideological prison or Matrix we are currently trapped in.

Gnostic Novels and Horror

Lawrence Durrell is one of the most overt Gnostic writers in mainstream literature, both is Alexandria Quartet and his later, post-war The Avignon Quintet he used major themes from this heterodox realms of gnosis. As in this statement from Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness:.

Man is in a trap … and goodness avails him nothing in the new dispensation. There is nobody now to care one way or the other. Good and evil, pessimism and optimism–are a question of blood group, not angelic disposition. Whoever it was that used to heed us and care for us, who had concern for our fate and the world’s, has been replaced by another who glories in our servitude to matter, and to the basest part of our own natures.
–LAWRENCE DURRELL, Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness

A few authors whose works present a Gnostic mythos:

John Crowley’s Aegypt Cycle
Malcom Lowery’s Under the Volcano
Doris Lessing’s Shikasta novels
David Lindsey’s A Voyage to Arcturus
Cormac McCarthy’s dark Southern Gothic and his Western Lands works
Collen Clements five-volume Biography of Lucifer
Beyond that one can find it used either overtly or in parody/gest in many horror writers…

Many of the horror writers have taken a left-hand path or Luciferian gnosis by way of the negative ecstasy of infernal paradises etc. into their works, inverting the underlying a-cosmic schemes of the actual historic Gnostics for a more secular and materialist mysticism of the immanent-transcendence variety (horizontal rather than vertical). Following in the footsteps of those 19th Century fabricators of the occult, satanic, and decadent late romanticism these writers would offer a vision not of some supernal city of light and peace, but rather a dark hinterland of cosmic night described by John Doe in Thomas Ligotti’s The Frolic:

“We leave this behind in your capable hands, for in the black-foaming gutters and back alley of paradise, in the dank windowless gloom of some intergalactic cellar, in the hollow pearly whorls found in sewerlike seas, in starless cities of insanity, and in their slums . . . my awestruck little deer and I have gone frolicking.”

This sense of finding in the sewers of nightmarish wastelands and deliriums of the backwater slums of the universal decay a world of awe and wonder filled with the dark pleasures of a sadomasochistic cosmos. This is the kenoma or vastation of he Luciferian nightmare realm of paradise’s inferno…

Though it has gone largely unrecognized in the critical literature on Bataille, dream and the unconscious are intimately related to the sacred in Bataille’s thought. Understanding this connection requires an account of Bataille’s conception of the sacred as an ambivalent force that, when accessed through sacrificial acts, engenders an ecstatic loss of self. Th is loss of self corresponds with Bataille’s idiosyncratic notion of sovereignty, which is related to an escape from the “servile” world of instrumental reason—the sphere of the profane. (Jeremy Biles, Negative Ecstasies)

It’s this need for self-sacrificial loss of self in the ecstasy of horror that seems most poignant in Ligotti’s oeuvre as well. The horror of consciousness is central to his horror, and the various angels of approach to the annihilation of our ego-based relations seems central to many of the themes in Ligotti’s tales.

One feels it in Ligotti’s The Shadow at the Bottom of the World:

In sleep we were consumed by the feverish life of the earth, cast among a ripe, fairly rotting world of strange growth and transformation. We took a place within a darkly flourishing landscape where even the air was ripened into ruddy hues and everything wore the wrinkled grimace of decay, the mottled complexion of old flesh. The face of the land itself was knotted with so many other faces, ones that were corrupted by vile impulses. Grotesque expressions were molding themselves into the darkish grooves of ancient bark and the whorls of withered leaf; pulpy, misshapen features peered out of damp furrows; and the crisp skin of stalks and dead seeds split into a multitude of crooked smiles. All was a freakish mask painted with russet, rashy colors—colors that bled with a virulent intensity, so rich and vibrant that things trembled with their own ripeness. But despite this gross palpability, there remained something spectral at the heart of these dreams. It moved in shadow, a presence that was in the world of solid forms but not of it.

 

Michel de Ghelderode: Spells & Vanity

 

How could we bear the weight and sheer depth of works and masterpieces, if to their texture certain impertinent and delicious minds had not added the fringes of subtle scorn and ready ironies? And how could we endure the codes, the customs, the paragraphs of the heart which inertia and propriety have superimposed upon the futile and intelligent vices, if it were not for those playful beings whose refinement puts them at once at the apex and in the margin of society?

—Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

From one of the tales in Michel de Ghelderode, Sortilèges et autres contes crépusculaires (Spells):

“As I was leaving the Beguinage one evening, the janitor approached me and asked me mischievously if I was happy with my companion. I replied that yes, staying to look at the little April stars in the poplars. Daniel still asking me why I sighed, I was not afraid to admit that I would have liked to be Pilatus, in eternal silence; a forgotten man of men, who knows how to write wonderfully and who never writes, knowing that everything is vanity.”

That last line I love… “a forgotten man of men, who knows how to write wonderfully and who never writes, knowing that everything is vanity.” For long I felt that same despair wandering through many libraries, looking at the tens of thousands (not counting the millions of bits in Library of Congress) of books, journals, etc. published each year, realizing there is already too much for any one human to read much less understand. It’s as if the vast accumulation of capitalist culture has ended in the labyrinth of the library as a vast hyper-chaos (Meillassoux) in which the only guide is a thin scarlet thread from Ariadne’s spindle; and, even it has fallen into dust in the vast maze of endless books and aisles.

I’ve read more than my share of books, pondered the supposed wisdom of the ages and realize that sense of the vanity of vanities. A sense that none of all those great books has offered us a solution to the ills of the human condition, and that in our late age it is far too late to believe books being published now can begin to change humans from their destructive self-annihilation. It would be nice to believe that we would wake up and realize that the earth is indifferent to our mistakes, our errors; but, the truth is she is not, and she has a surprise for us coming: death by stupidity in not realizing that the climate event we are in the midst of is going to change everything. Whether we survive it or not the world will be a realm of ruins and more of a hellish paradise than an Eden.

I will be dust before it happens, but feel a sense of apprehension and doom for all the innocents who have yet to be born who will inherit the ruins of our late capitalist culture and its dark heritage.

The Outside That Will Not Think

This affords us a significant insight into the manic disposition: although the latter is invariably oriented toward excessive dealings, this excess can take the form of an overwhelming focus on the miniscule or the indistinct, the slenderest of turns, the slightest phenomenon rising over the hills, a breath of fugitive light that should not even be there.

—Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh, Omnicide

What if the maniacal nightmares of the barbarian are our own? The troglodytes at the gate: the self-effaced semblance of our own demented torments? What if we are the enemy we seek, the fetid death gods of some latter day replicant’s idea of eternal life? A hellish brood of rancorous wolves turned human to cannibalize the last vestiges of reality? Self and World merged as unified nightmares of a universe whose only goal is annihilation in the bonfire of an immaculate void? What if the first ape to gaze upon the Sun as something more than the sun died with that knowledge beyond knowledge rather than peering into his Eve like some ancient seafarer from the lost hinterlands of a forgotten cosmos? Would we have forgotten that the gods were mere reflections of our hatreds, cursed artifacts of our primal fears and anxieties? Or would we have invented out of the sublime hideousness of light a thought to end all thoughts, a pattern in the tremulous night between the stars and the emptiness surrounding them? Maybe it was the endless tracing of a dark vortex in the swirl of black light of a dead sun that first gave us the feeling of absolute despair, the moment when we realized that nothing can escape this deep pit of the vastation except the thought of a thought dying in the embers of a catastrophic creation. The death of the Universe is the creation of a thought beyond thought in a realm without an Outside to think it.

My latest Comic-Horror Short Story Published in The Siren’s Call

Capture

My latest comic-horror story just published in The Siren’s Call: The Immortalist

You can download (free!) the ezine version from the site with some other great authors as well. The 45th issue of The Sirens Call eZine features eighty pieces of dark fiction and horror prose from seventy different authors and poets. It also features an interview with, and twelve monster/creature images by, our featured artist, NOISTROMO. This month’s spot-light author, Tim Meyer, schools us on why ‘Fear Is Fun’ and also offers an excerpt from his short novel, The Switch House!

The Impossible Erasure of Self

In his discussion of Roland Torpor’s horror novella, The Tenant, Thomas Ligotti will compare the division of Insider/Outsider. The Insider believes herself to be substantial and of value, and has the right to impose their egotistical power over all those they deem Outsider’s. The main character of this novella Trelkovsky has moved into an apartment just vacated by a dying woman, and over the course of the tale is hounded by the daemonic citizens of a private hell who live in the apartment building and believe him, unlike themselves to be no one and nothing. Ligotti describes this feeling of being an Outsider:

“Anyone who is marked as being outside of the group is fair game for those who would assert their reality over all others. Yet they, too, are nobodies. If they were not, their persecutions would not be required: They could pass their lives with a sure mindfulness of their substance and value. But as any good Buddhist … could tell you, human beings have no more substance and value than anything else on earth. The incapacity to repose alongside both the mountains and the mold of this planet is the fountainhead of the torments we wreak on one another. As long as we deny a person or group the claim to be as right and as real as we are, so long may we hold this dreamlike claim for ourselves alone. And it is the duty of everyone to inculcate a sense of being empty of substance and value in those who are not emulations of them.”1

Colin Wilson once described the Outsider as a social problem, a “hole-in-corner” man. Describing the anti-hero of Henre Barbusse’s L’enfer he says of the Outsider:

He has ‘no genius, no mission to fulfil, no remarkable feelings to bestow. I have nothing and I deserve nothing. Yet in spite of it, I desire some sort of recompense.’ Religion…he doesn’t care for it. ‘As to philosophic discussions, they seem to me altogether meaningless. Nothing can be tested, nothing verified. Truth—what do they mean by it?’ His thoughts range vaguely from a past love affair and its physical pleasures, to death: ‘Death, that is the most important of all ideas.’2

The ancient Gnostic’s of certain sects would through a form of negative devaluation reverse Socrates’ credo of “Know Thyself”, and begin a process of unnaming, of slowly and methodically erasing all the names within oneself that others seemed to attach to one’s Self as substantive and having value. This was the central dictum of those ascetic and libertine creatures of the gnosis: a knowledge not of what is, nor of what is not; but rather of the nameless and unknown that remains when all names have been erased. This emptiness – a vastation of horror and awareness not of being or self, but of that silence that is greater than all thought of self or value.

In his Theory of Religion Bataille once stated of this impossibility:

“Everything invites one to drop the substance for the shadow, to forsake the open and impersonal movement of thought for the isolated opinion. Of course the isolated opinion is also the shortest means of revealing what the assemblage essentially is-the impossible. But it has this deep meaning only if it is not conscious of the fact. This powerlessness defines an apex of possibility, or at least, awareness of the impossibility opens consciousness to all that is possible for it to think. In this gathering place, where violence is rife, at the boundary of that which escapes cohesion, he who realizes cohesion realizes that there is no longer any room for him.”3


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 198). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Wilson, Colin. The Outsider (Kindle Locations 250-256). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.
  3.  Georges, Bataille. Theory of Religion. Zone Books (June 29, 1992)

 

MALIGNANTLY USELESS: The Art and Philosophy of Thomas Ligotti

Over a period of years the works of Thomas Ligotti have pervaded my thought and life. I’ve decided to spend time writing on the art and philosophy of Ligotti in a new book, one that I will hopefully finish by the end of fall. Not sure when it will be published, but I’ll keep you informed. I may not be as active on the site as I’ve been but will still pop my head up from time to time as I progress.

Continue reading

The Satirical Jibes of Thomas Ligotti: On The Complainer

Re-reading Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror in the section The Cult of Grinning Martyrs he takes up in reversal the optimist’s dissatisfaction with pessimistic complainers. It’s as if Ligotti has imagined an Optimist, – happy-go-lucky Reader, coming upon his work for the first time, and having read up to this point in the book; and, having read thus far decided enough is enough! “Mr. Ligotti, I dare you! What is all this gibberish about, this negation of everything I hold dear! I dare you, you are the most miserable creature I’ve ever come across. All this complaining, all this bellyaching about Life! Let me tell you something…” Then he proceeds to do just that! One must understand the subtle humor of this satirical jibe to appreciate Ligotti’s irony and scorn of Optimism (long quote):

In the workaday world, complainers will not go far. When someone asks how you are doing, you had better be wise enough to reply, “I can’t complain.” If you do complain, even justifiably, people will stop asking how you are doing. Complaining will not help you succeed and influence people. You can complain to your physician or psychiatrist because they are paid to hear you complain. But you cannot complain to your boss or your friends, if you have any. You will soon be dismissed from your job and dropped from the social register. Then you will be left alone with your complaints and no one to listen to them. Perhaps then the message will sink into your head: If you do not feel good enough for long enough, you should act as if you do and even think as if you do. That is the way to get yourself to feel good enough for long enough and stop you from complaining for good, as any self-improvement book can affirm. But should you not improve, someone must assume the blame. And that someone will be you. This is monumentally so if you are a pessimist or a depressive. Should you conclude that life is objectionable or that nothing matters— do not waste our time with your nonsense. We are on our way to the future, and the philosophically disheartening or the emotionally impaired are not going to hinder our progress. If you cannot say something positive, or at least equivocal, keep it to yourself. Pessimists and depressives need not apply for a position in the enterprise of life. You have two choices: Start thinking the way God and your society want you to think or be forsaken by all. The decision is yours, since you are a free agent who can choose to rejoin our fabricated world or stubbornly insist on … what? That we should mollycoddle non-positive thinkers like you or rethink how the whole world transacts its business? That we should start over from scratch? Or that we should go extinct? Try to be realistic. We did the best we could with the tools we had. After all, we are only human, as we like to say. Our world may not be in accord with nature’s way, but it did develop organically according to our consciousness, which delivered us to a lofty prominence over the Creation. The whole thing just took on a life of its own, and nothing is going to stop it anytime soon. There can be no starting over and no going back. No major readjustments are up for a vote. And no melancholic head-case is going to bad-mouth our catastrophe. The universe was created by the Creator, damn it. We live in a country we love and that loves us back. We have families and friends and jobs that make it all worthwhile. We are somebodies, not a bunch of nobodies without names or numbers or retirement plans. None of this is going to be overhauled by a thought criminal who contends that the world is not doubleplusgood and never will be. Our lives may not be unflawed— that would deny us a better future to work toward— but if this charade is good enough for us, then it should be good enough for you. So if you cannot get your mind right, try walking away. You will find no place to go and no one who will have you. You will find only the same old trap the world over. Lighten up or leave us alone. You will never get us to give up our hopes. You will never get us to wake up from our dreams. We are not contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox. Such opinions will not be accredited by institutions of authority or by the middling run of humanity. To lay it on the line, whatever thoughts may enter your chemically imbalanced brain are invalid, inauthentic, or whatever dismissive term we care to hang on you, who are only “one of those people.” So start pretending that you feel good enough for long enough, stop your complaining, and get back in line. If you are not as strong as Samson— that no-good suicide and slaughterer of Philistines— then get loaded to the gills and return to the trap. Keep your medicine cabinet and your liquor cabinet well stocked, just like the rest of us. Come on and join the party. No pessimists or depressives invited. Do you think we are morons? We know all about those complaints of yours. The only difference is that we have sense enough and feel good enough for long enough not to speak of them. Keep your powder dry and your brains blocked. Our shibboleth: “Up the Conspiracy and down with Consciousness.”


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 172-174). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.

Nada


Like the Soul, the Self may one day disappear from sight, laughed into non-existence from sheer apathy and derision. That the Self like the Soul is not some objective, tangible thing one can point too, but is rather defined by language, by that strange “I” of which nothing can be proven or disproven; only more words upon words in an endless arc of deconstructive knots and rhizomes that can neither be unstrung like Gordian’s knots; nor wistfully restored to the honeyed web of holes that spin us into our imagined lives. We are nothings who have believed ourselves to be somethings, so that the old adage of “Why something rather than nothing?” can be answered: Nothing is nothing is nothing… or as Hemingway pondering the same said:

“Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Clean Well Lighted Place

Redemption by Death: On Becoming Android


Reading through Ligotti, Mainlander, and other extreme pessimists I’m beginning to see a pattern: each seems to see pain and suffering in the same sense as the Stoic, Buddhist, and negative apophatic Christian mystic. If true, and if the cessation of pain and suffering by annihilation of one’s physical being seems to be the goal to which it tends, then maybe there is a strange form of overcoming it in the coming age, a new kind of redemption by death (Mainlander); yet, with a twist not conceived of by any pessimist before: becoming machinic, becoming dead-while-alive in being without pain or suffering through a form of horizontal immanence through mutation from organic to machinic phylums.

As Beiser says of Mainlander:

It is in this context that we should understand Mainländer’s paradoxical doctrine of the death wish. The inner striving of the will is for death because it is only in death that we find true happiness, which is the highest good for every human being. Such happiness resides in complete tranquillity and peace, which comes only with death, the utter nothingness of annihilation. If Mainlӓnder describes life as a means toward death that is because death promises what life really wants: tranquillity and peace.1

Yet, is not becoming other, becoming machine – a machinic existence that extinguishes pain and suffering by other means than organic systems present the truly logical conclusion to pessimism? For as Beiser suggests,

Mainländer writes there that the mission of his philosophy is self-emancipation, the liberation of humanity from its own self-imposed bondage. The history of the world is the story of this self-emancipation, Mainlӓnder tells us. In its path towards self-liberation, humanity goes through the stages of polytheism, monotheism and atheism; in this process humanity learns to be more self-critical and self-conscious of its own powers; it sees how it has enslaved itself to entities of its own making; and so it grows in autonomy, its power to lead life according to its own self-conscious goals and ideals. Humanity is at present at the end of the stage of pantheism, the last stage of monotheism, which appears either in a dynamic (Hegel) or a static (Schopenhauer) form. Now, as humanity nears the final stage, the individual demands the restoration of his rights, the repossession of the powers that he once squandered on heaven. (209)

Mainländer holds the opinion that life is irredeemable suffering and that redemption lies only in leaving it. Isn’t what we’ve sought all this time is emancipation from pain and suffering? And is not the horizontal (earthward) rather than vertical (heavenward) transcendence of physical being into machinic being by a migration of our intelligence a break with the organic conception of the human, and a true reconciliation with the inhuman core of our existence? To die to organic necessity and open ourselves to a new more profound anorganic necessity on becoming machinic intelligences?

Till the day of his suicide Mainländer’s pessimism divided him utterly from the neo-Hegelians. He finds their optimism naïve. For him the chief sources of suffering lie in existence itself; even in the best state, and even with the greatest progress of the sciences, the main forms of suffering will remain. There will always be the traumas and troubles of birth, sickness, age and death. (210) But that’s just it, he did not know what we know, he had not been presented with any alternative to this organic cycle of birth, growth, maturity, old age, and death. But we have, we have in out age been tempted, seduced toward various forms of transhuman, posthuman, and inhuman modes of being that offer exit from the human organic becoming systems of decay, ruin, pain, and suffering. None of them are practical, and the sciences have yet to overcome the problems surrounding such notions, but that is not the point: these notions and conceptions are driving the sciences in directions that Mainlander in his fusion of ancient though with the sciences of his day would have approved of if he’d known.

Of course many will see in this just fantasy, another loop in the dream quest of our postmodern temperament toward the posthuman inhuman matrix of ideas. And, yet, what if…. it were true?

What’s funny about Mainländer is that throughout his peregrinations he fought against Schopenhauer’s universalist notion of a Cosmic Will, and vied instead for a nominalist injunction believing there were only particular will’s rather than one great One living through us. But in the end he came up with his own version of Schopenhauer’s Universalist claims of a Great Will – just not the will-to-live, but rather the will-to-death. In his mythic narrative at the end of his Philosophy of Redemption he describes how God after all his knowledge came to the macabre conclusion that his very existence was a horror even to himself, and yet he was unable to end it in one fell swoop. Instead he devised a plan, with the creation-catastrophe of the Universe he began the process of dying-unto-death-through-the-particular, so that the will to annihilation at the core of our being is in fact the working of this dead God’s will to annihilation. As Beiser notes,

“We long to die, and we are indeed dying, because God wanted to die and he is still dying within us. Mainländer sees this process of cosmic death taking place all throughout nature, in both the organic and inorganic realms, and he goes into great detail about how it takes place everywhere in the universe.” …

“Although Mainländer has in general little sympathy for the teleological conception of nature, it is remarkable that he still attributes a strange kind of purposiveness to everything in nature: namely, the striving toward self-destruction and death.”

“It is hard to know what to make of Mainländer’s cosmology of death. If we take his regulative guidelines seriously, then we cannot deem it a conjecture or hypothesis; rather, we have to regard it as a fiction, treating it only as if it were true. We do best, then, to take it simply as mythology, as a story meant to replace the religious myths of the past. The justification of such a myth is purely pragmatic: it gives us the power to face death because we imagine ourselves moving inevitably towards it.”

One could see in this Mainländer’s subtle Christianization of a universe of death as the outcome of the Death of God leading to an inverted Apocalypse or Day of Judgment which would annihilate the goats and sheep alike. 🙂 One almost smiles at such a strange philosophy, and yet underlying it is the pessimists extreme radicality. A religious nihilism to the nth degree zero, a redemption unto death rather than eternal life. Seems he was a failed Christian seeking a new Gospel of Death against Life, one in which the Book of Life would be burned in the end, erasing both worshipers and God alike from the memory of existence.

(Of course I’m toying with ideas that at present are just that: ideas to be toyed with, rather than literalisms of a mad hatter!)


  1. Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (p. 209). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

A Rare Find: Weird Tale Author – Hans Henny Jahnn

Oh, a rare find…

Hans Henny Jahnn a highly controversial writer from Germany, especially because of his drastically cross-border literary depictions of sexuality and violence. According to the social history of German literature (1981), he is one of the “great productive outsiders of the [20th] century”.

I am reading David Peak’s The Spectacle of the Void which offers his reading of horror from a philosophical perspective using current trends such as Speculative Realism and other forms. I want go into that here. He describes a tale by German author Hans Henny Jahnn. Luckily found a couple of his works translated in English: The Living Are Few, The Dead Are Many – Three shorter stories, “Kebad Kenya”, “Sassanad King”, and “A Master Selects his Servant”; and the novella “The Night of Lead”. Peak describes his novella The Night of Lead as a “work singularly obsessed with the overlap of death and sexuality, eroticism and decay…”, a man who has learned to embrace the horror reality, by merging with existence in the present, by accepting being with no past and no future, suspended in the void, he has performed a true act of katabasis. (Peak, 76)

I think what piqued my interest is his anti-natalist and being one of the first to offer an attack on the anthropocentric world view. His thought seems in many ways close to Thomas Ligotti which I’ll need to pursue once I get ahold of these works. His greatest work is a three-volume trilogy Rivers without Borders, but has yet to be translated… seems to be a sadomasochistic recursion to as the wiki entry has it,

Jahnn seems to have been close to the Gnostic mythos viewing humans as a “catastrophe-creation,” an error that should be quickly stamped out. Ulrich Greiner describes the structural features of his literary work in 1994 in TIME for the author’s 100th birthday under the ironically meant heading The Seven Deadly Sins of Hans Henny Jahnn:

It is based on a “reduction of man” on the biological. Jahnn sees man as part of nature, which is not above the animal, but rather how this pain feels. For Jahnn, life is a “universal and permanent pain” that animals endure,” while man inflicts pain in a planned and prudent manner: himself and his like, the animals and the whole of nature. Slaughterhouse and war are the two sides of an incomprehensible will to destroy life.” For Greiner, Jahnn’s work is a “protest against the anthropocentric world view”.

Determining “for the whole Jahnn’s work is the central idea of an anti-Christian creation mythology”, which is influenced by the Old Babylonian Gilgamesh epic and “ontogenetically regarded as pre-Oedipal,” according to the social history of the German Literature (1981). A “strictly anti-civilizational position” manifests itself in it by means of the following motif complexes: anarchic, nature-religious myths (versus Christian tradition), ancient Egyptian death mythologies (versus German tradition of Hellenism), “elementary attachment of man to his carnality, in which drive, sacramentality and barbarism are fused” (versus humanistic human image), archaic-timeless landscapes in which man, animal and nature live in unresolved unity (versus bourgeois Enlightenment-based, progress-oriented civilization).

A customer on Amazon states” it is rather easy to compare a variety of authors to Kafka. Queasy interior spaces, discussions whose meanings explode through failed communication, a constant uprooting of linear movement. This is why we pull so many books from the shelves, old and new, to see Prague’s weaver of strange fables as a point of reference. Descending from K, we then find authors such as Blanchot and Bataille, who show this influence but swim into modes even murkier and more transgressive. With Blanchot, I refer not simply to more popular works like Death Sentence, but also the shorter parables to be found in the collection Vicious Circles. Here we do not simply encounter discomfort, impossible exchanges, and dreamlike states, but meet a philosophical obsession with dying head on. Of course the same can be said for Bataille, whose Story of the Eye, Blue of Noon, and My Mother/Madame Edwarda/The Dead Man, are texts of sexual subversion somehow equally preoccupied with the grave.”

Thomas Ligotti on Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899– 1990)

Why did I not perish at birth; why did I not die as I came from the womb?  —The Book of Job

All things are full of weariness… —Kohelet: Ecclesiastes

For Thomas Ligotti what separates and divides us as humans from each other is our acceptance or rejection of life’s value: our awareness of being alive, of knowing that we know; this division puts those who affirm life’s value in the category of optimists, while those who counter such affirmation with a negative “No” are placed in the category of uncompromising pessimism. In the white heat of discovery one imagines Ligotti – a great reader of books – coming on the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe’s (1899– 1990) essay “The Last Messiah” (1933) for the first time, realizing that here, just here a man had spoken what Ligotti himself had thought and believed for quite a long time; that human existence is a tragedy, and that consciousness is at the core of this tragic world. In this essay as Ligotti says of this eloquent work: “Zapffe elucidated why he saw human existence as a tragedy.”1

The notion as to why humans over eons of time became conscious beings, self-aware nothings – as it ’twere, has been investigated by the ancient Greeks, the early Buddhists, and every thinker one can imagine up through our current crop of cognitive psychologists, philosophers of mind, and neuroscientists. The quarrels over what consciousness is may never have an end, and yet that we are aware of our awareness – this subtle loop of mirrored duplicity, of recognition and dismay at being both in and outside the game of life has been at the heart of human misery from its beginning. As Zapffe says (quoted by Ligotti):

A breach in the very unity of life, a biological paradox, an abomination, an absurdity, an exaggeration of disastrous nature. Life had overshot its target, blowing itself apart. A species had been armed too heavily— by spirit made almighty without, but equally a menace to its own well-being. Its weapon was like a sword without hilt or plate, a two-edged blade cleaving everything; but he who is to wield it must grasp the blade and turn one edge toward himself. (22)

This dark breach in the world, a gap between knowing and known, the self-lacerating power of negation that distances us from the world and our selves even now causes consternation in the heart of many humans who are dismayed at being alive, and of knowing that they are alive. As Ligotti will ask, “Could there be anything to this pessimistic verbiage, this tirade against the evolution of consciousness?”

Against the pessimistic worldview of Zapffe Ligotti will offer us the optimist’s challenge by way of Nicholas Humphrey in an interview,

Consciousness— phenomenal experience— seems in many ways too good to be true. The way we experience the world seems unnecessarily beautiful, unnecessarily rich and strange….

[T] he more I try to make sense of it, the more I come back to the fact that we’ve evolved to regard consciousness as a wonderfully good thing in its own right— which could just be because consciousness is a wonderfully good thing in its own right! (24)

A good thing? Consciousness? It’s this diametric view onto consciousness and its value which separates and divides our species into optimist and pessimist as if the binary polarity of human belief came down to this key problem facing human kind. Should we throw our hands up? Ligotti presented with this paradox of paradoxes ironically suggests:

Both Humphrey and Zapffe are equally passionate about what they have to say, which is not to say that they have said anything credible. Whether you think consciousness to be a benefit or a horror, this is only what you think— and nothing else. But even though you cannot demonstrate the truth of what you think, you can at least put it on show and see what the audience thinks. (24)

So what does the audience think? So many theories about consciousness have arisen in the course of the past two millennia that it would be difficult to provide a short history in this post. Instead, as Ligotti suggests in his commentary on Zapffe’s notions:

Consciousness is connected to the human brain in a way that makes the world appear to us as it appears and makes us appear to ourselves as we appear— that is, as “selves” or a “persons” strung together by memories, sensations, emotions, and so on. No one knows exactly how the consciousness-brain connection is made, but all evidence supports the non-dualistic theory that the brain is the source of consciousness and the only source of consciousness. Zapffe accepted consciousness as a given and moved on from there, since he was not interested in the debates surrounding this phenomenon as such but only in the way it determines the nature of our species. (25)

So against Descartes and the dualists of the mind-body Zapffe along with many other thinkers sees consciousness as tied to our brain’s circuitry and feed-back loops, a black box that may or may not provide us at some future date the actual workings underpinning this connection (i.e., the various branches of research into the brain in contemporary sciences may someday succeed in not only mapping the brain but providing the mechanisms that give birth to consciousness itself, etc.). Either way Zapffe according to Ligotti was concerned with the outcome and aptitude of consciousness rather than with its origins and evolution.

What’s interesting in reading Ligotti on Zapffe and his enemies is the subtle irony and dark humor in his portrayal. Ligotti in this work is obviously on the side of the pessimists, a small group of individuals in any era as compared to the greater majority of eternal optimists. Optimists reject pessimism outright without even an iota of congenial investigation. Even in his introduction to Pessimism the philosopher-commentator would see pessimism as a problem rather than a solution, a specific malaise and temper of what he’d term “Weltschmerz“.2 A concept that  literally means “worldpain”, and  “signifies a mood of weariness or sadness about life arising from the acute awareness of evil and suffering,” whose origins have been traced back to the 1830s, to the late romantic era, to the works of Jean Paul, Heinrich Heine, N. Lenau, G. Büchner, C. D. Grabbe and K. L. Immermann. ( 1) Later on this term would give way to another term which would “acquire a broader more serious meaning: it was no longer just a poet’s personal mood; it was a public state of mind, the spirit of the age, the Zeitgeist.” (1)

Humans as a species over time became aware of the rest of organic creation and that for most if not all organic species we share this planet with are oblivious of their existence. Most organic creatures on this planet live out an endless cycle of survival, reproduction, death— and nothing else. (L, 28) Only humans are aware of this cycle and realized that in the end one dies. This knowledge of death and finitude would create in our ancestors a sense of foreboding that would lead them to seek out answers through magic, religion, and, then, philosophy and poetry to answer this strange quandary of existence. As Ligotti will say of it

We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering— slowly or quickly— as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are— hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones. (28)

Suffering, pain, and time seem to all be interconnected in this notion of birth, growth, maturity, age, and death cycle – the organic worldpain within which we are “time” (Heidegger). As Bruno Bosteel’s in his essay The jargon of finitude explicating Heidegger puts it: “We are not ‘in’ time so much as our innermost being ‘is’ time.”  In his ‘New Refutation of Time’ Jorge Luis Borges the Argentinian metaphysical idealist and author of short tales of the fantastic once wrote:

To deny temporal succession, to deny the ego, to deny the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny (unlike the hell of Swedenborg and the hell of Tibetan mythology) is not horrible because of its unreality; it is horrible because it is irreversible and ironbound. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river that carries me away, but I am the river; it is a tiger that mangles me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. (Quoted by Bosteel’s in his essay!)

All this is to say that what consciousness is is Time: not an awareness of time, but time’s flow, its movement, its struggle within the organic tomb of flesh and blood we term the human. Our awareness of this fact has led most humans to a life of absolute delusion and delirium and denial so that for them optimism and escape from the truth into a life of absolute illusion has become the mainstream path of living on this planet. As Ligotti summarizes:

Nonhuman occupants of this planet are unaware of death. But we are susceptible to startling and dreadful thoughts, and we need some fabulous illusions to take our minds off them. For us, then, life is a confidence trick we must run on ourselves, hoping we do not catch on to any monkey business that would leave us stripped of our defense mechanisms and standing stark naked before the silent, staring void. To end this self-deception, to free our species of the paradoxical imperative to be and not to be conscious, our backs breaking by degrees upon a wheel of lies, we must cease reproducing. (28-29)

This anti-natalist conclusion is at the core of Zapffe’s “The Last Messiah”. In a 1959 interview Zapffe would say,

The sooner humanity dares to harmonize itself with its biological predicament, the better. And this means to willingly withdraw in contempt for its worldly terms, just as the heat-craving species went extinct when temperatures dropped. To us, it is the moral climate of the cosmos that is intolerable, and a two-child policy could make our discontinuance a pain-free one. Yet instead we are expanding and succeeding everywhere, as necessity has taught us to mutilate the formula in our hearts. Perhaps the most unreasonable effect of such invigorating vulgarization is the doctrine that the individual “has a duty” to suffer nameless agony and a terrible death if this saves or benefits the rest of his group. Anyone who declines is subjected to doom and death, instead of revulsion being directed at the world-order engendering of the situation. To any independent observer, this plainly is to juxtapose incommensurable things; no future triumph or metamorphosis can justify the pitiful blighting of a human being against his will. It is upon a pavement of battered destinies that the survivors storm ahead toward new bland sensations and mass deaths. (Quoted by Ligotti: 29)

In a world projected to reach 9.5 Billion by mid-century one can only conclude that no one has heeded such bleak advice as of yet. Ligotti will continue his eloquent tribute and commentary on Zapffe’s essay, along with explicating Zapffe’s strategies for limiting human consciousness against too much truth, which I will leave for the reader to pursue on her own. I think we have seen the tendency and endpoint of the pessimists worldview and what it offers us as a resolution to the problem of humanity. As with Kohelet in the Hebraic book of Ecclesiastes which Michael Chabon describes this way:

“Horror grows impatient, rhetorically, with the Stoic fatalism of Ecclesiastes. That we are all going to die, that death mocks and cancels every one of our acts and attainments and every moment of our life histories, this knowledge is to storytelling what rust is to oxidation; the writer of horror holds with those who favor fire. The horror writer is not content to report on death as the universal system of human weather; he or she chases tornadoes. Horror is Stoicism with a taste for spectacle.”

~ Michael Chabon

One need not be a Joseph Conrad or his character Kurtz to say: “The horror! The horror!” As Ligotti will conclude humans will go on, they will continue to deny the darkest truths, or will channel them into aesthetic entertainments and apotropaic images to keep the beast at bay:

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. (84)


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 21). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (p. 1). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

Thomas Ligotti: There Is Something Wrong With The World

That we all deserve punishment by horror is as mystifying as it is undeniable. … But we have been trained so well to accept the “order” of an unreal world that we do not rebel against it.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race

In an Interview Thomas Ligotti describes the aberration that is our life in the universe: “Other people might have simply concluded there was something wrong with them to have emotions that made them feel outside of the world around them. My conclusion was exactly the opposite. I concluded that there was something wrong with the world. And now I was in tune with everything that was wrong, everything that had been wrong since I was born, since life evolved on this planet, since the universe began, and perhaps even before that.”1

“Perhaps,” opens us in that last sentence to an ambiguous relation to our notions of the cosmos in Ligotti’s thought. It’s as if underlying his pessimism is an open door into the unknown and unknowable fractures in reality, the gaping holes that thought alone cannot think, an incompleteness and possibility of something outside our very thought of beginnings which harbor a more destitute and abyssal nightmare than we can imagine. This sense of wrongness, that the world is not what it seems, but is much more dangerous and incomprehensible than our sciences with all their theoretic power of mathematical precision can reveal; for underneath all the calculations, all the theorems is something hiding in plain sight but invisible to our mental calibrations. Ligotti’s apprehension of a universal tilt, a “wrongness” with the world and life in this universe goes beyond our ability to reckon or conceive, is situated outside our earthly configurations and philosophies to know. And, yet, we can sense it, feel it, without being able to think it. The Gnostics once believed there was a form of knowing outside Reason, outside the visible calculable realm of appearances, something that opened onto the void, the great vastation and emptiness; what they would term the ‘kenoma’: in the Gnostic schema(s) the kenoma (emptiness) is the imperfect and the antithesis of pleroma (fullness), where all are in a state of privation and unreality.

The notion of the Unreal in Ligotti’s worldview,  not unlike the concept of maya (illusion) in the various Indic traditions, is different, is more abyssal and indifferent to our desires or thoughts alike, seeking neither to delude us nor seduce us into some nefarious relation of entrapment, either through our own internal needs and desire, or from some outer magnetic field of attraction beyond our control. Instead as Ligotti will say elsewhere: “We are defined by our limitations; without them, we cannot suffice as functionaries in the big show of conscious existence. The farther you progress toward a vision of our species without limiting conditions on your consciousness, the farther you drift away from what makes you a person among persons in the human community.”2 This sense of the kenomic privation and unreality of both world and self is at the core of Ligotti’s world and fiction. Agreeing with the philosopher Zapffe, “the sensible thing would be not to go on with the paradoxical nonsense of trying to inhibit our cardinal attribute as beings, since we can tolerate existence only if we believe— in accord with a complex of illusions, a legerdemain of duplicity— that we are not what we are: unreality on legs.” (Conspiracy, pp. 41-42)

The point here is that without our illusions and seductions the whole façade or human consciousness and existence breaks down leaving us entrapped in a never-ending nightmare of unreality. For Ligotti and others of like mind this state of things can no longer be denied. Ligotti sees the world naked, stripped of its veneer – the duplicitous illusions by which others energetically prolong the delusions of their lives that sustain  the world as real. For Ligotti on the other hand there is something behind the scenes of life that is “pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world“. (ibid., p.54) Explicating this process in Zapffe, Michelstaedter, Mainländer, and Bahnsen he states:

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. (ibid., p. 55)

The bleakness of this dark thought of the extreme powers at play in the universe would lead the normal man into madness and suicide, but Ligotti and others such thought leads only to the knowledge that we are living in an infernal paradise whose only telos is never-ending omnicide. This viral thirst for annihilation and self-renewal at the heart of the universal kenoma-vastation ruled over by impersonal laws and inhuman forces beyond our comprehension align well with both the Lovecraftian pantheon of Old One’s and the ancient inverted cosmos of the Gnostics who believed our universe was and is a catastrophe-creation and fall, a mistake created by a demiurgical blind power; mindless and impersonal to our desires and needs alike, a machinic system of an endless vicious circle without outlet. If there ever was a vision of hell it is the one without gods, a machine of death who has no maker, self-made monstrosity whose cannibalistic enactments and engorgements make the most macabre and grotesque tales we as humans could contrive fare for kindergarten matrons and educational devices for apotropaic dissuasion. Tales of the weird and horror become in this sense the narratives of grand illusions and entertainments that keep the truth at bay, revealing only by way of words and image the unreal as mitigated by the world of aesthetic distance and illusion.

Against realists of every persuasion Ligotti says of those who tell us we must “get real” and accept untruth as truth, a utopia of the Real: “A utopia in which we no longer deny the realities we presently must repress cannot be realistically hoped for. And who except a pessimist would wish for that utopia?” (ibid., p. 71) And, against all those who would discover some anti-natalist message in Ligotti, or some deep environmentalist agenda of wiping the human race off earth by way of species suicide, he states flatly:

As appealing as a universal suicide pact may be, why take part in it just to conserve this planet, this dim bulb in the blackness of space? Nature produced us, or at least subsidized our evolution. It intruded on an inorganic wasteland and set up shop. What evolved was a global workhouse where nothing is ever at rest, where the generation and discarding of life incessantly goes on. By what virtue, then, is it entitled to receive a pardon for this original sin— a capital crime in reverse, just as reproduction makes one an accessory before the fact to an individual’s death? (ibid., pp. 78-79)

No, he’ll have none of that. Commenting on the German neurophilosopher Thomas Metzinger, who came to the conclusion in his Being No One that humans evolved the illusion of self as a survival technique, a naïve realist delusion to help us cope with and repress the very dark truth of our own unreality: ‘Conscious subjectivity is the case in which a single organism has learned to enslave itself.’ (ibid., p. 106) Deluding ourselves that the world is real and that we are, too, is to repress the harsh truth, to mask as Ligotti will remind us “the single most startling and dreadful revelation for human beings: that we are not what we think we are. Assuaging our qualms about such a deplorable enlightenment, Metzinger avers that it is “practically impossible” for us to attain realization of our unreality due to inbuilt manacles of human perception that keep our minds in a dream state.” (ibid., p. 106)

In many ways humans over eons have developed civilization as a safeguard against this impossible truth of the world and universe, invented a utopian playground of work and play to deny the unfolding trauma of our delirious enslavement to illusion. The insanity of our sociopathic civilization tied as it is with a utopian desire to escape the truth of reality by repressing it, by building a nexus of illusions, a simulated world of erotic delight and happiness has led us into a dead end zone of hyperviolence and aberration. Commenting on Zapffe’s conjectures that with the passing of generations the more profligate will become humanity’s means of hiding its disillusionments from itself: the more brainless and delusive its isolation from the actualities of existence; the more stupefying and uncouth its distractions from the startling and dreadful; the more heavy-handed and madcap its anchorings in unreality; and the more callous, self-mocking, and detached from life its sublimations in art. “These developments will not make us any more paradoxical in our being, but they could make all manifestations of our paradoxical nature less effective and more aberrant.” (ibid., p. 175)

The fractures in the armature of our defensive mechanisms, the torturous aberrations into which we’ve seduced ourselves into delirium, the global breakdown of this grand narrative of human concern and security is imploding all around us. The signs of chaos and the ingress of the unreal into our world as if from Outside in is slowly eroding all the old myths and tales we invented to hide the truth from ourselves. With the advent of modernity the key myths of human salvation and redemption, the notions of heaven and all other utopian worlds of promise have since the Enlightenment one by one fallen by the wayside corroding the old worldviews of the Human Security Regimes that held our illusions together while repressing the dark truth of the Unreal.  As Ligotti will sum it up (and I quote at length):

That we all deserve punishment by horror is as mystifying as it is undeniable. To be an accomplice, however involuntarily, in a reasonless non-reality is cause enough for the harshest sentencing. But we have been trained so well to accept the “order” of an unreal world that we do not rebel against it. How could we? Where pain and pleasure form a corrupt alliance against us, paradise and hell are merely different divisions in the same monstrous bureaucracy. And between these two poles exists everything we know or can ever know. It is not even possible to imagine a utopia, earthly or otherwise, that can stand up under the mildest criticism. But one must take into account the shocking fact that we live on a world that spins. After considering this truth, nothing should come as a surprise.

Still, on rare occasions we do overcome hopelessness or velleity and make mutinous demands to live in a real world, one that is at least episodically ordered to our advantage. But perhaps it is only a demon of some kind that moves us to such idle insubordination, the more so to aggravate our condition in the unreal. After all, is it not wondrous that we are allowed to be both witnesses and victims of the sepulchral pomp of wasting tissue? And one thing we know is real: horror. It is so real, in fact, that we cannot be sure it could not exist without us. Yes, it needs our imaginations and our consciousness, but it does not ask or require our consent to use them. Indeed, horror operates with complete autonomy. Generating ontological havoc, it is mephitic foam upon which our lives merely float. And, ultimately, we must face up to it: Horror is more real than we are. (ibid., p. 182)

If you have the tendency that drags everything down into the abyss you’ll agree with Ligotti when he says:

“For better or worse, pessimism without compromise lacks public appeal. In all, the few who have gone to the pains of arguing for a sullen appraisal of life might as well never have been born.”

Over the years of writing on pessimism on my blog since my early years on LiveJournal (2001) to my change over to WordPress in 2012 the darkest segments of my gaze into the pessimistic worlds of philosophy and literature have seen little favorable reaction from readers of my blogs except that small minority that sees as I do this uncompromising view as their inner truth and diagnosis of the “festival of carnage”. The truth is that most react with horror and disgust at such a bleak view of the world and universe, and as Ligotti again correctly surmises,

“…when it comes to existential judgments, human beings in general have an unfalteringly good opinion of themselves and their condition in this world and are steadfastly confident they are not a collection of self-conscious nothings.”

Hell, I know myself that the gloom and doom of this view onto life if taken too seriously can lead to madness. I think that’s why I’ve developed over the years my own defense mechanisms by way of a quirky humor, a sardonic wit and irony to keep at bay those times when even I become too depressed. Humor is above all (and, I don’t mean the satiric jibe or gallows humor) the only reprieve from such abyssal seductions. But even it should be tinged with the dark fires of an uncompromising gaze onto what is. I’ve seen recent philosophers weave such a web of words from various traditions of Idealism and Materialism of late to cover over the truth using mathematics, diagrammatic, and other edgy forms of thought that I often wonder if they truly believe their own horseshit or not. Take away the power of rhetoric and sophistry and what remains of a philosopher’s thought? Not being a philosopher, but rather a creature undefinable by any category I’ve seen my own thoughts wander through the gamut of autodidactic quests, pondered so many various thought-forms from a myriad of traditions that to lock oneself into any of them is a sort of safeguard against openness and incompleteness. This notion of the universe as open and incomplete rather than a closed entropic totality seems for me at least to allow for that negative capability of which John Keats once described so eloquently:

‘The concept of Negative Capability is the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.’

Knowing that the world is not for-us, that the impersonal and indifferent universe is a realm of unfolding chaos and mayhem; and, yet, that there are underlying forms of order beyond our Reason to collate (Lovecraft) – offers one – if not a consolation, at least an acknowledgement that as self-nothings: accidents of time, evolution, and the mystery of obscurity and contradiction that is this universe, is for many of us to accept that we may never uncover the underlying mechanisms and structures of knowing and being. But that this is enough: to have lived, loved, and been a part of something that is and remains a mystery that drives us, puzzles us, and gives of the courage of our hopelessness to continue… for we seek not a place to rest, but the never-ending restlessness of the quest of intelligence and Mind to know and understand even if there is no answer forthcoming out of the Void.


1. Vastarien, Vol. 1, Issue 1 (p. 84). Grimscribe Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 33). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.

Hyperstition on Weird Studies: Episode 36

An interesting take on Hyperstition on Weird Studies episode 36. Like David Roden, I, too, think one must discern a deeper understanding of such notions from their all to easily trapped sense of teleological hybrids. Land’s work has a tendency to see some abstract agency from the future as enacting and intervening in history to promote its own agendas. Whereas I think just the opposite: it’s humans who have invented, created, and maintained various fictions-as-worldviews (i.e., the example of religion-as-fiction using the Book: whether as Torah, Bible, Koran; or, the various works of Indic, Chinese, or a myriad of other cultures.. to maintain and promote or influence people over time, etc. through priestly social control mechanisms). But one needs a greater clarification and wider historical survey of religious and magical praxis and theory, and it’s continued interventions in secular canons. Either way the below is an interesting conversation, grist for the mill…

About this Episode

Hyperstition is a key concept in the philosophy of Nick Land. It refers to fictions which, given enough time and libidinal investment, become realities. JF and Phil explore the notion using one of those optometric apparatuses with multiple lenses — deleuzian, magical, mythological, political, ethical, etc. The goal isn’t to understand how fictions participate in reality (that’ll have to wait for another episode), but to ponder what this implies for a sapient species. The conversation weaves together such varied topics as Twin Peaks: The Return, Internet meme magic (Trump as tulpa!), Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphysics, occult experiments in spirit creation, the Brothers Grimm, and the phantasmic overtones of The Communist Manifesto. In the end we can only say, “What a load of bullsh*t!”

REFERENCES

JF’s notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the refrain
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
David Lynch (director), Twin Peaks: The Return
Phil Ford, “Garmonbozia” (work in progress, unpublished)
Delphi Carstens, “Hyperstition
Delphi Carstens, “Hyperstition: An Introduction” (2009 interview with Nick Land)
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
CCRU Archives
The occult concept of the egregore
William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
Alan Chapman and Duncan Barford, The Blood of the Saints
A. T. L. Carver, “The Truth About Pepe the Frog and the Cult of Kek
Paul Spencer, “Trump’s Occult Online Supporters Believer ‘Meme Magic’ Got Him Elected
Colm A. Kelleher, The Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Sun Ra, Space is the Place

The Travails of Wisdom and Sorrow

All words are wearying,
No one is able to speak.

—Qohelet, Ecclesiastes

Rereading the Old Testament after a lifetime I’ve come to realize wisdom and sorrow seem to go hand in hand, the most pessimistic literature of our world reside in Kohelet’s Ketuvim scriptures of Ecclesiastes. Along with The Book of Job which to me at least presents the enormity of our dire position in the face of the unknown and incomprehensible power and terror that is the kenoma or vastation of time, space, and creation; which if the ancient Gnostics (a source of an abiding pessimism!) testate to: the creation of our Universe was also a great catastrophe. This sense of creation-catastrophe stains all that exists within this immanent realm or vicious circle (Nietzsche’s eternal return…).

Always remembering that the Gnostics inverted the Old Testament mythos, making of Yahweh a blind god and demiurge who’d fallen into Time as both its creator and botched maker, while at the same time having exiled the real god into the solitude of the Abyss before creation-fall. This sense that we are cut off and alone in a realm in which the very stones upon which we walk hide the kellipot or evil and energetic intelligences whose endless creativity is the power of blind pleasure-pain (jouissance) that drives the death pulsion in ever- accelerating compulsion toward absolute zero without ever quite reaching it (ergo… Freud’s death-drive that never dies… the zombie truth of our universe as living death and Hades-Hell! The underworld in which we have forgotten our actual lives, having fallen into this dark abyss of eternal night, allured by the beauty of natural existence.). Always dying, always living; cursed to remain through a change that is an eternal metamorphosis in process of monstrous discognition. We need not seek the nightmare, we are its progenitors and secret inheritors.

Born of our own mad designs, we ourselves created this labyrinth from which there is no center or circumference, no escape, no redemption; only the eternal journey through its bad infinity, the labour of an infinite thought in search of its lost idea. If we ever discovered the truth it would obliterate us, send us into that final abyss from which nothing escapes; neither light, nor darkness: the night of nights without outlet. Victims of our own foolish desires we have immersed ourselves in a cosmic game of infinite desire, machines of insatiable pleasure-pain we invent illusions to hide the emptiness and nothingness we are. We speak of love, yet enact hate; martialed to the wars of reality, we enter systems of belief that continue the struggle against all with all – a fanatics dream of never-ending battle in a realm without end. In our time the outer is seeping into our actual and real sleep, disturbing our nightmares and delivering us to the Outside which as we see in the forests, jungles, deserts of the world are all turning to fire within fire: an endless conflagration.

Mark Strand: Darkening to Darkening

When The Vacation Is Over For Good

It will be strange
Knowing at last it couldn’t go on forever,
The certain voice telling us over and over
That nothing would change,

And remembering too,
Because by then it will all be done with, the way
Things were, and how we had wasted time as though
There was nothing to do,

When, in a flash
The weather turned, and the lofty air became
Unbearably heavy, the wind strikingly dumb
And our cities like ash,

And knowing also,
What we never suspected, that it was something like summer
At its most august except that the nights were warmer
And the clouds seemed to glow,

And even then,
Because we will not have changed much, wondering what
Will become of things, and who will be left to do it
All over again,

And somehow trying,
But still unable, to know just what it was
That went so completely wrong, or why it is
We are dying.

—Mark Strand, Collected Poems


Reading this poem again by Mark Strand I’m reminded of our darkening world as it begins to decay into ruinous waste at the hands of its most destructive child, humanity. If ever there were a time that needed change it is ours, and yet I, too, as Strand above seek it and yet do not find it. Instead the change is not of human making other than the destruction we’ve invented and perpetrated upon the earth, source and resource of all we are have been. Humans are a stain upon the face of earth, and like other non-human creatures that have come and gone we too inevitably will enter that abyss from which there is no return. As John David Ebert in The Age of Catastrophe: Disaster and Humanity in Modern Times reminds us,

The present conquest of the earth by these cosmotechnologies facilitated and realized by governments and multinational corporations is the inevitable outcome of those first principles that were constitutive parts of a World Picture in which the earth becomes the plaything of human beings using the spark of God to help them conquer it.

That we have become mere spectators in a spectacle of chaos and ruin is apparent to many, and yet the rich and their minions across the planet seek only to aggravate this accelerating process through reliance of advanced hypertechnological systems that are becoming more and more autonomous and beyond human control. As climate change and catastrophe become all to apparent within a few decades we will see a world slowly dying before our eyes, see mass migrations from the heat belts where thermal inertia and heat death rule. As Paul Virilio has written:

The twenty-first century will be the century of mass migrations. A billion people  will move. The whole world situation will be disrupted. Disrupted by the crisis in localization. The old societies were connected to a territory, a native land. Today they’re adrift due to the delocalization of jobs and never-ending conflicts. There is also, clearly, the major issue of climate: the disappearance of archipelagoes, submersion of coastlines. This means all of history is on the move again. All of history is taking to the road. A billion people moving over half a century -that’s never been seen before… It’s almost as though the sky, and the clouds in it, and the pollution of it, were making their entry into history.

—Native Land – Stop Eject

As the oceans seep in from the dark, as the cities drift below the sullen green waves, as humans seek out the last vetiges of dry land and the mountainous caverns of sky and stars the final decolonization of the earth will begin.

A dark and private weather settles down on everything. It is colder and the dreams wither away.

—Mark Strand, The Man In The Mirror

Maybe the earth like a young mother will mourn the passing of her children, wander among the stars silent and alone, given over to the simplicity of tears where the travails of light break across the dark like whispers of a forgotten thought.

We have done what we wanted. We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry of each other, and we have welcomed grief and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

—Mark Strand, Coming To This

Like automatons assuming our endless tasks we have accrued the last remnants of profit from the dead in their dead worlds. The void will not give up its dead for they have no need of us nor of the nothingness we are. Children of habit we do not know, we do not see, we do not hear the tolling bell of time ringing upon the last dawn’s horizon. Mindless we have allowed our bodies to enter the servitude of dead men, sleepers of time who will vanish without return.

…there is the sleep that demands I lie down and be fitted to the dark that comes upon me like another skin in which I shall never be found, out of which I shall never appear.

—Mark Strand, The Sleep

In the end nothing will remain. The mirrored world of thought dispersed. The erosion of all we’ve been and could broken. Silence alone will remain. Who will inherit the earth? Bones.

Everything dims. The future is not what it used to be. The graves are ready. The dead shall inherit the dead.

—Mark Strand, The Way It Is

Did you really think it would be different? All this bleakness and ruin and chaos and darkness other than it is and will be on a planet growing long and cold and indifferent.

 

 

The Boredom of War?

“War is the most boring thing you can possibly experience. But it makes you into a connoisseur of boredom.” – Scott Beauchamp, Did You Kill Anyone?

A friend Scott Beauchamp publishing a book on the boredom of war.

Connoisseur of boredom? No, when I think back on my involvement in the Viet Nam conflict from 1968-70 in the jungles of South-East Asia, boredom is not the word I would use to describe my own virulent and nihilistic experience. At 68 and surviving Nam the brutal truth of war leaves a permanent mark and scar across one’s life, after such violence there is no return, no return to one’s childhood, no return to what one was… one comes back as one of the living dead; angered, alone, and numb. Boredom has nothing to do with it, only silence and nightmares. Shock and trauma, not boredom. A blank in one’s life, not a memory; a place of no place, a visit to the hell of humanity; a farce perpetrated by fear mongers over an ideological crazed and apocalyptic culture of war and death: America in the Sixties…. domino theories and Red Scares; cultural paranoia and the mad schemes of the Cold War. I can assure you I didn’t as Scott seems to have “see patterns in my mind of the boredom itself,” rather my mind was blasted with a 24/7 splatterpunk reality on steroids, a world where sleeping was neither acceptable nor required. It was a gore fest with repeats from hill to hill in a jungle we all knew as burger hill… boredom? No boredom is not the right word: insanity, that is the word that comes to mind for me after all those years.

Continue reading

How It Is

 

 

I am not proud to be a man, because I know only too well what it is to be man.

—E. M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

When people are faced with extreme pessimism they run, run as fast as they can back into their comforting delusions; the comfort of the dammed. As creatures of misery we seek to assuage our suffering, broker arrangements that will alleviate both mental and physical pain through externalizing our fears and trepidations, our anxieties onto those others – the monsters that inhabit our lives. We cannot live with our monsters, but seek beyond all things to bury them in a world of art and fiction where they can be controlled and imprisoned; relegated to the innocuous childhood of nightmares. Yet, every so often those monstrous impulses we hide from ourselves suddenly leap out of their crevices, seep into our lives from the hinterlands of delusional hysteria, crumbling the armature of our thick protective barriers, revealing at last that we, we alone harbor legions, legions of demons…

Almost anyone who reads a book is either seeking an answer to life’s misery, or their seeking to escape it; there being no middle-path. The truth is we all want someone else to give us the answer we most desire, as if long ago something happened, some strange and twisted thing changed our lives, an event that came and went so subtly that we didn’t even notice how the world changed; and then we woke up and realized years after that somewhere along the way we’d entered our own private Twilight Zone, discovered we’d lost a day, a week, a month, or leap year along the way. Something went missing in our lives, something profound we lost amid the hustle and bustle of daily activities, something we wish we knew what vanished into the world like a small fragment of our souls, gone forever; pfft, erased. And now we keep wandering round in a vicious circle looking for it, that… lost thing.

It’s like we want an answer all wrapped up like a Christmas present, stuffed with everything we’d always hoped for, the wisdom of the ages and all that horseshit – and, then it comes: a gift from the blue, we unwrap it, and there it is, the mystery we’ve all hoped for, the truth we’ve sought for far too long… and, then bam, a Jack-in-the-Box pops out holding a toy gun, laughing and swaying like a comic fool, and then shoots the pistol at us, a flag unfurling from the gun like an old time school banner – with a message on it for us: “Ha, ha, ha, ha… You’re fucked, that’s the truth of it, honey child!” Yea, somewhere in the pit of our stomach we knew it all along, we knew there wouldn’t be some deus ex machina popping out of the woodworks to save our ass, no siree… we knew that at the end of the road all there was … was nothing, no answer, no Angelic hand dangling from some Tin heaven with a sign saying: “Redemption, this way…”. No, instead we found this promissory note, a blank tab with an unmarked signature, an open and incomplete bank note telling us we don’t have enough to pay our way to oblivion… instead we’ll have to repeat this same life over and over and over without reprieve; a prisoner of our own desires for eternity.

Condemned to eternal repetition we’ll wile away the nights and days refining our small apocalypses like urban cowboys or New York dilettante’s of small ennui’s. The trivialization of reality in situ, a winking nod to the labor gods of some comic disaster awaiting a streamlined deco punk arboretum, filled not with spacious organicism’s but rather the metalloid dreams of some lost purveyor of nightmares. The officiating priests of this decadent enterprise offering us the simple truths of the faithless and the con man, the slow burn of sordid betrayals and the lip service of sinister anathemas. Yes, eternity is a zone of hate and sadism, an exclusive club for the discognition of sybaritic minds whose distempered thoughts were too well manicured by professional adverts. We are the victims of our own deceits,  triumphant only in our denials and inabilities to accept our own responses or lack thereof. Knowing the truth we mask it with our unused life, unable to exist alone we huddle together in the sink holes of felonious enclaves, dripping with the fatal strategies of would be lepers whose hidden desires seek only the twisted infestations of cenobites. Tempted to escape our fate, we create its lasting spillage – the seeping horror of an abyss too wide to encompass our own black hearts. Slipping away from reality into the Real we invent the Unreal world of our enslaved desires, living out our living death in this hellish paradise like gods lost among the debris of a universal ruin.

John Langan’s Sefira first impressions…

John Langan’s Sefira first impressions…

sefiraJust finished reading his novella Sefira and like where he’s going with this line of mythmaking. If your familiar with Dante’s Inferno or Milton’s Paradise Lost one feels the sense that John is developing his own vision of Hell we hope to see more of in future stories or novels. In fact in his notes he affirms this: “In teaching Dante’s Inferno over the years, and in referring to it in nearly all my classes, I had discussed the sin of betrayal as the most serious in his vision of Hell because of its perversion of those qualities specific to humanity, a view that grows more compelling to me the older I become.”

It is this theme of betrayal that is the creative engine driving this novella. We’re thrown into the midst of a small town where a typical husband and wife are undergoing a moment of transition in their lives. The husband, Gary, is no longer satisfied with his sexual relationship with his wife, Lisa. So he’s discovered the whole world of Internet porn and sex-tease sites where he allows himself to be seduced by a young woman’s rhetoric and pornographic offerings. Needless to say he is tempted to a secret rendezvous and liaison with the young woman, Sefira who has journeyed to town for a little fun. Not a good thing as Gary finds out too late this is no young woman, but rather an ancient demon in disguise – what type of demon I’ll let the reader find out for herself. His wife Lisa finds out about the affair from her nosey friends, which leads to interesting consequences, and to a story that will draw the reader deeper and deeper into a labyrinth that offers a puzzle: a slow burn of mounting details that weave the reader in between juxtaposed chapters, shifting scenarios and time frames; moving from present to future and back again. Each chapter unveiling just enough details to keep one interested and yet puzzled enough to keep the suspense and mystery of the story ongoing without ever becoming bored.

John introduces into the narrative a third character as a plot device for revealing occult information that would otherwise have seemed out of place in the novella. He provides a modern day Tarot reader and roadside clairvoyant into the mix who provides information on Sefira and the infernal realms she has come from. Her name is Madame Sosostris – a character John has inherited from T.S. Eliot who ironically introduced her in his famous modernist poem, The Wasteland. Strangely, Eliot himself borrowed the name after a character from Aldous Huxley’s comic satire novel Crome Yellow.

What we learn from Madame Sosostris is that the inferno this daemonic creature has emerged from is the “pneumasphere”:

“The afterlife,” Madame Sosostris said, “although I prefer not to use that word. ‘Afterlife’ makes the place sound separate from us. It isn’t. It intersects this world in a multitude of ways. If it weren’t so New-Age-y, I’d say it’s the spirit world. Another dimension, or plane of existence. It has its own ecology, its flora and fauna, its inhabitants. This Sefira comes from an especially ancient chamber known as the Broken Land.”

As if John had been influenced by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s notion of the rhizome we learn that the pneumasphere has no central organization, but is constructed of a “collection of connected nodes” which she describes,

 “This is how the pneumasphere is arranged. Each of its chambers is vast, a universe in and of itself. There are links among the various nodes and major events here. You mentioned Aubrey Byrne,” she said to Gary. “He and I thought it possible new chambers emerged in response to significant changes on this plane, to the ascent of new species to the top of our ecosystem. That’s the other thing about the pneumasphere: it’s reactive. Occurrences on Earth can effect conditions there. It takes something significant, something global, but a catastrophe for us has the potential to devastate the environment for them. This was the case with the Broken Land. There was a cataclysm—an asteroid struck the earth. The resulting firestorm killed off most life on the planet.”

It’s this strange vision of Hell that intrigues me and something I hope to see more of in future works by John. The notion of a pneumasphere (Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is an ancient Greek word for “breath”, and in a religious context for “spirit” or “soul”.), a vital realm where the dead exist in an imaginal zone of horror seems almost Gnostic in its intent and purpose, since John sees it as a reciprocal  influence between the two environments conditioning each other through catastrophic events of human or daemonic intrusion and intervention. Other writers like Stephen King and Clive Barker have developed Other worlds mythologies to good effect, and we hope John will further this in a larger more expansive vision or dream quest in some future epic work. I think this would be fascinating.

I’ll not say anything more about the novella itself, leaving the reader enough enticement to go out right now and buy this unique work, and I will reserve a future post for the rest of the short stories in this collection. It’s definitely worth reading, and hope you will enjoy it!


Visit John Langan: https://johnpaullangan.wordpress.com/
Buy Sefira: here!

A Survivor’s Exile

To be a survivor is to live in exile, to be haunted by memories rather than people, to know simulacrum and dark entities rather than the companions of a forgotten world. The old saying of “let the dead bury the dead” has no meaning for a survivor, she is bound to the dead like a priest to his parishioners; forever interceding on their behalf to the emptiness that is and is not. The survivor is one of the walking dead, a memory of past time come alive; living with that which cannot live, the survivor walks through time as a ghost of death’s promise. Exile is itself a state not of mind, but of hell’s cold heart; there being no redemption for survivors, only the endless repetition of frozen desires.