Lafcadio Hearn: On Terrible Beauty

One of the first elements of the emotion to become clearly distinguishable is the æsthetic; and this, in its general mass, might be termed the sense of terrible beauty. Certainly the spectacle of that unfamiliar life,— silent, tremendous, springing to the sun in colossal aspiration, striving for light against Titans, and heedless of man in the gloom beneath as of a groping beetle,—thrills like the rhythm of some single marvellous verse that is learned in a glance and remembered forever. Yet the delight, even at its vividest, is shadowed by a queer disquiet. The aspect of that monstrous, pale, naked, smooth-stretching column suggests a life as conscious as the serpent’s. You stare at the towering lines of the shape,—vaguely fearing to discern some sign of stealthy movement, some beginning of undulation. Then sight and reason combine to correct the suspicion. Yes, motion is there, and life enormous—but a life seeking only sun,—life, rushing like the jet of a geyser, straight to the giant day.

—Lafcadio Hearn, Gothic Horror

 

Joseph Addison: The Taboo of the Veil

There is yet another explanation of the mystery surrounding this dread of the supernatural which may be worth considering. It may be that man has been endowed with this almost universal horror of the supernatural because he was not meant to peep behind the veil. It can hardly be doubted that mankind in general would not be doing their true work if they were perpetually engaged in efforts to lift that veil. For what purpose was the veil interposed if not to prevent such prying? But granted that it would be a hindrance to man’s development to traffic with the other world, or to learn too much about it at first hand, would not man be very likely to have developed a keen instinctive horror of any contact with the unseen world, just as many animals have an instinctive horror of plants that will injure them? Be that as it may, … why so many of us should be afraid of things which we know will, under no circumstances, do us bodily harm, and which most of us sincerely believe have no existence whatever, is in any case a very curious problem.

—Joseph Addison, The Spectator (The Dread of the Supernatural)

Nathan Ballingrud: Southern Gothic Horror

Nick’s mother used to say that they’d lost his father to the horses.

—Nathan Ballingrud, North American Lake Monsters

Something speaks to me from the stories of Nathan Ballingrud. Having been raised on the likes of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner, Carson McCullers, and other notables of that southern mien one gets a feel for the genuine article, and Ballingrud is just that – the real deal, a writer with a voice of his own and a vision that is both distinct and hinged to the swamp infested riddles of a regional world where the darkness seems almost natural.

With the exception of Native American lore, folklore, like language and literature, came to this country as part of the cultural baggage of the various waves of its settlers. In the South, its sources are mainly British, African, and French, with important admixtures of Spanish and German and touches of almost everything else. Ballingrud invents a folklore that is hinted at rather than drawing from overt sources, a lore of the weird and strange that permeates the Louisiana bayous and City of Lights, New Orleans like black water seeping into the wells of some lonely southern night.

Ballingrud says of himself,

I was born in Massachusetts in 1970, but spent most of my life in the South. I studied literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at the University of New Orleans. Among other things, I’ve been a cook on oil rigs and barges, a waiter, and a bartender in New Orleans.

His first book of short stories, and the one I’m reading at present is North American Lake Monsters, from Small Beer Press. He has won two Shirley Jackson Awards, and been shortlisted for the World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards. Not a small feat.

Reading him awakens the tremors below the belt, makes you remember things that might have been or will be. He has the touch, that ability to hit the nerve of strangeness in the natural that few of us even knew was there accept as an indefinable shadow surrounding our lives like the deadly eyeballs of a gator slinking out of the dark pools of some snake infested swamp.

Those of us who come from the south understand the  irony of lost causes and regrets for the loss of old ways. Southerners more than most feel this deep seated nostalgia for a world steeped in evil and mayhem, a realm where racism, war, and a sense of bitter-sweet history commingle with shame and guilt. Maybe its our dark history of racism that sticks to us like the stigmata of some ancient Biblical curse for which there are and can be no reparations. Some think we’re beyond redemption, while others still manifest the bullheaded pride of the old guard as if it were another country. Ballingrud seems to tap into this anxiety like a master marksman whose keen eyes know just where the target is but is subtle enough to take it slow and methodical rather than full-amped.

His writing is steeped in that colloquial speech that rings true, hinting at a certain pitch in the tongue and groove of southern style. A way of being and becoming that hints at things rather than revealing them in the stark light of a noon-day sun. If Flannery O’Conner could hit you over the head with an ideological sledgehammer filled with her own flavor of gnostic Catholicism, then Ballingrud takes the lower key and floats you in the swamps where you can meet death at eye level.

Now if you haven’t read Ballingrud yet then just stop right here for I’m going to reveal certain spoilers that are best left to the imagination…

S.S. – A Coming of Age Tale

Take his story S.S. which on the surface is a typical coming of age tale of a young man caught between familial romance and the surfeits of choosing his own way. Young Nick is scrawny and unkempt, lives with his broken down Mom who we discover by indirection is a woman with a very severe case of autosarcophagy  – a nice medical term for self-cannibalistic degradation. Of course Ballingrud handles this strange phenomenon with such delicacy and reserve that we only begin to understand just what is transpiring toward the end of the tale.

One can imagine a young man growing up in such an environment and what it might do to his psyche, the perversities of his world influenced by such horrorific nostrums. On the surface Nick seems to be as normal as Norma Bates seemed in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho. Yet, we know something sinister is brewing just under the surface of the boy’s flesh as the story progresses.

Nick’s father unable to stomach the proclivities of his wife abandon’s his son and her at the age of four. The mother unable or unwilling to accept the truth and relate it to her son invests in a folkloric explanation that carries with it a sinister shadow,

Nick’s mother used to say that they’d lost his father to the horses.

Throughout his childhood, Nick thought that meant that he’d been killed by them: trampled beneath a galloping herd, or thrown from the back of a bronco; when he was younger still, he imagined that they’d devoured him, dipping their great regal heads into the open bowl of his body, lifting them out again trailing bright ropes and jellies. At night, when the closet door in his bedroom swung silently open, the boogeyman wore an equine face, and the sound that spilled from its mouth was the dolorous melody of his mother’s sobs. Even now that he knew better, knew that his father had fled in part because of gambling debts incurred at the track, horses retained their sinister aspect.1

One begins to suspect things are not going to go well for young Nick, that his life with a cannibal and a missing father will lead to nowhere good. Luckily for our young Nick he meets a girl name Trixie, a young feisty girl at the edge of womanhood whose world is filled with racial dreams of purity and tattooed knights from the beleaguered realms of fascist nationalists. The story is bedeviled by such stereotypes of male figures full of macho hostility toward losers, gays, and blacks. Yet, the tale itself has no axe to grind, no message or moral. It’s just a part of the world this young boy has been thrown into, a world he does not fit into, nor even condones.

Being poor and white trash our young Nick has lived out his childhood in a realm in a realm of darkness, his mother having quit work early on leaving them bankrupt and only affording what Nick’s father’s alimony check subtends. Nick seems to have an inkling of his loser-hood, and yet he takes it all in stride. Even his relationship with Trixie is accepted as a piece of luck, not something he ever deserved in his own right. But like all modern Eve’s she has a temptation he must not refuse if he is to win her heart.

Trixie belongs to a white nationalist group of thugs, a group of young boys who tattooed like confederate throwbacks channel their primal aggression against the world in epithets of stupidity and beer. Young Nick is persuaded to meet Trixie’s new friends and become a part of their club. Nick goes out with the boys to a local bar and is introduced to the racial politics of this strand by a over-muscled goon name Derrick who points the way to his dark tribes vein glorious stigmata,

He touched his fingers to a swastika on his chest. “You see this here? That’s what it means. That’s why we wear it on our skin. All that German secret police shit, forget all that. That was just one manifestation. We’re the new manifestation.” He tapped the symbol. “White family. White brotherhood. Now, sometimes you gotta do ugly things for the family’s sake. Just like me and Matt had to do. And you know what? Niggers and fags might not be the brightest creatures on this earth, but they can take a message if you deliver it right. I ain’t seen that boy back here since.” (ibid.)

Ballingrud doesn’t pull any punches, he lets the full tilt power of this hateful world emerge from the twisted minds of these young men as if it were the most natural thing in the world. When Derrick taunts young Nick with sexual antics and his scrawniness, telling him how he’s fucked Nick’s chick, Trixie, trying to get a rise out of him. Nick does. He tells Derrick to “Fuck Off!” and proceeds to leave them to their own dark bullshit.

Ballingrud isn’t preaching to us, rather he presents this sordid world matter-of-factly as if it were just another natural thing one comes upon, neither good or evil; something that just is – not big deal. Like I said he has no axe to grind. He’s a story teller, not a preacher man.

The next time he sees Trixie she wants to come over to his house, wants to level with him, pull him in, seduce him, break him like a horse. And, yet, there’s something about young Nick that even Trixie doesn’t understand, something even darker and more solitary that this wild young woman would fear to know if she had an intelligent brain in her head. Brash and full of vivacity she is like a wild cat, untamed and fierce; and, yet, she is oblivious to the deep moral issues within which she has ensnared her self. It’s this in-betweenness, this traveling between the ruins of the past and the challenge of the supposed new south that both these young people seem to be entangled in. But Trixie is blind to it and its seductions believing it is leading her into extreme forms of freedom when it is actually driving her into a past that haunts us all with it’s racist daemonism. On the other hand the shadows that seem to expand from Nick in every direction offer him a path into nowhere and nowhen, an atopia of the weird where he might find a separate freedom, a realm of darkness and mayhem all of his own, built not of past shame but out of the malevolent truth of his own dark nature.

Without retelling the whole story we’ll cut to the chase. Young Nick wants a gun, wants to use it, and he gets Trixie to do his bidding by finding it for him. Once he has it he senses something in his life, a certain freedom. He and Trixie take off on a road trip where they are involved in a catastrophic wreck that awakens something in young Nick. He’s seen a truck careen into a BMW spilling a beautiful white horse across the rock hard pavement. It’s this confrontation with the violence of the white horse whose guts and blood are splattered across the white hot surface that moves something in young Nick.

He opened the passenger door and climbed out into a cold brace of air. The rain was a frozen weight, soaking his clothes instantly. A confused array of lights speared through the rain, giving the scene a freakish radiance. He noticed that he was casting several shadows.

The horse’s big body jerked as it tried to right itself, and Nick heard bones crack somewhere inside it. The horse screamed. It lay next to the overturned car, amidst a glittering galaxy of broken glass, its legs crooked and snapped, its blood spilling onto the asphalt and trailing away in diluted rivers. It was beautiful, even in these awful circumstances; its body seemed phosphorescent in the rain.

Nick knelt beside it and brushed his fingers against its skin. The flesh jumped, and he was overwhelmed by a powerful scent of urine and musk. Its eye rolled to look at him. Nick stared back, paralyzed. The horse’s blood pooled around his shoe. It seemed an astonishing end for this animal, that it should come to die on some hard ground its ancestors never knew, surrounded by machines they never dreamed. Its absurdity offended him. (ibid.)

This sense of ‘freakish radiance’ and young Nick’s realization that he was “casting several shadows” brings that pitch of sublime horror and the ridiculous absurdity of  violence between an ancient world of freedom and horses, and a modernity where machinic impersonalism and death have no meaning, into a realm of seductive revelation where apocalyptic desire melts with the annihilation of terror and dread. It’s just here, in a world outside the order of things, caught in a violent tremor in-between his past and his future that he makes a decision. Trixie worried about the gun, the police, the world around her crumbling wants to run, to leave it all behind. Nick instead chooses something else, chooses his own freedom, a freedom from Trixie and her world of thuggish racism, from his Mother’s entrapments in a cage world of self-cannibalistic desire, and a world where beauty and death on a sun scorched highway can co-exist:

The gun. Nick brushed roughly past her, nearly knocking her to her knees. He retrieved the gun from her glove compartment and headed back to the horse. Trixie intercepted him, tried to push him back. “No, no, are you fucking crazy? It’s gonna die anyway!”

He wrenched her aside, and this time she did fall. He walked over to the horse and the gun cracked twice, two bright flashes in the rain, and the horse was dead. A kind of peace settled over him then, a floating calm, and he stuffed the gun into his trousers, ignoring the heat of the barrel pressing into his flesh. Trixie had not bothered to get up from the pavement. She sat there, watching him, the rain sluicing over her head and down her body. Her face was inscrutable behind the curtain of rain, as was everything else about her. He left her there.

Behind her, the car was hopelessly ensnared in the traffic jam. He would have to walk home, to his mother, broken and beautiful, crashed in her own foreign landscape. Bewildered and terrified. Burning love like a gasoline. He started down the highway, walking along the edge of stopped traffic. He felt the weightlessness of mercy. He was a striding christ. Sounds filtered through to him: people yelling and pleading; footsteps splashing through the rain; a distant, stranded siren. From somewhere behind him a man’s sob, weird and ululating, rose above the wreckage and disappeared into the sky, a flaming rag.

One is almost tempted to think of another dark Messiah heading down a dirt road toward a city carrying a new gospel of redemption through violence, an echo of Flannery O’Conner’s ‘Francis Marion Tarwater’,

His singed eyes, black in their deep sockets, seemed already to envision the fate that awaited him but he moved steadily on, his face set toward the dark city, where the children of God lay sleeping.1

To know more about Nathan and his works visit his blog: https://nathanballingrud.com/


  1. Ballingrud, Nathan. North American Lake Monsters. Small Beer Press. (June 28, 2013)
  2. O’Connor, Flannery. The Violent Bear It Away (Kindle Locations 2454-2455). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Anna Laetitia Aikin (1743 – 1825): On The Pleasure Derived From Objects of Terror

Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies.

—Aristotle, Poetics

Anna Laetitia Aikin in her essay on the sublime of horror ‘On The Pleasure Derived From Objects of Terror‘ (1773) suggested we “rather choose to suffer the smart pang of a violent emotion than the uneasy craving of an unsatisfied desire”. She’d go on to say,

This is the pleasure constantly attached to the excitement of surprise from new and wonderful objects. A strange and unexpected event awakens the mind, and keeps in on the stretch; and where the agency of invisible beings is introduced, of “forms unseen, and mightier far than we,” our imagination, darting forth, explores with rapture the new world which is laid open to its view, and rejoices in the expansion of its powers. Passion and fancy co-operating elevate the soul to its highest pitch; and the pain of terror is lost in amazement.

Hence, the more wild, fanciful, and extraordinary are the circumstances of a scene of horror, the more pleasure we receive from it; and where they are too near common nature, though violently borne by curiosity through the adventure, we cannot repeat it or reflect on it, without an over-balance of pain.

This sense of what Lacan-Zizek  term ‘jouissance’ or the bitter-sweet pleasure/pain in apprehension of the  indefinable, unknown and horrific monstrosities of existence underlies the aesthetic appeal and active power of the fantastic over our Mind. The literature of terror, dread, and horror confront us with the cosmic power of an invasive alterity, an impossible and indefinite unknown and unknowable threat from the Outside that cannot be reduced to presence nor absence,  but is situated in that in-between zone of the impossible Real or Gap-Crack where chaos, madness, and darkness seep into our world.

The Study of Annihilation: On Suicide

To be, or not to be, that is the question : Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them ? To die, to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep; To sleep! perchance to dream : ay, there’s the rub.

—Shakespeare, Hamlet, III, 1.

And often through fear of death men come to hate life and the sight of the sun so bitterly  that in a burst of grief they kill themselves, forgetting it was this fear that caused their cares, troubled their conscience, broke their bonds of friendship, and overturned all sense of decency.

Death, then, is nothing, concerns us not one bit, since the soul has proved to be a mortal thing.

—Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 

The Greek and Roman world thought of suicide as an heroic act, while for the most part Western Christendom saw it as a form of taboo punishable by eternal damnation etc.. Our modern secular age beginning with Durkheim has turned a critical eye onto this self-annihilation as a sociological phenomenon to be studied, while after Freud it became a part of the science of suicidology. There are so many theories as to why people take their own lives. Our strange and emotional religious or even rationalist heritages have reams of information surrounding this most intimate form of death. My father once he discovered he had cancer and less than three months to live came home one day and grabbed his shotgun out of the closet, sat down and drank most of a fifth of scotch, then proceeded to take his own life. I want go further… many literary poets, writers, artists, thinkers in recent decades have done the same. For we who survive such traumas of loved ones the question is always: Why? Why would they do such a thing? Isn’t life worth living to the bitter end? Or is suicide against the pain and suffering of a slow inevitable death the better course? I want even go into the belief systems of war and terrorist bombers, etc. I began gathering a list of books on such morbidity:

Emile Durkheim’s classic: On Suicide
Philippe Aries: The Hour of Our Death
Georges Minois: History of Suicide
Edwin Schniedman: An Autopsy of a Suicide
Ron Brown: The Art of Suicide
Marzio Barbagli: Farewell to the World
Susan Stefan: Rational Suicide, Irrational Laws
Sarah Perry: Every Cradle is a Grave
James R. Lewis: Sacred Suicide
Gary Lachman: Literary Suicides

Of course there are tons of other works, and one could discover in the philosophical history of suicide from Socrates enforced use of Hemlock to the recent death of Mark Fisher… questions, questions, questions… there’s even a whole literature devoted to publishing suicide notes. I think of Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton, John Berryman or James Wright… one could write a never-ending litany to suicide in our time… In the histories we discover that after the fact cultures have either promoted it or anathematized and criminalized it. Our secular age has tried to psychologize it into its own scientized discourses as a disease of the mind, etc. I doubt the one’s who actually go down that path have an answer beyond the need to escape a certain hellish existence that has become too unbearable whether mentally or physically. Most of the literature on it is for survivors, not the perpetrators of the act.

In my own mind as I grow older and the gravitas of existence wears my body into dust I begin to think through such options… to be, or not to be: that truly is the question; and, one I will sooner or later have to face in extremis. Of course we can as well work through the positive and negative literature, weigh all the options as if one were meting out gold on the scales of Maat (the Egyptian goddess of life/death), else leave the option on the table of indefinable solutions – a sort of one-off Dadaist movement of imaginary solutions to indefinable problems. Comic or tragic, a choice of styles in mental hygiene; or, pragmatic resolution to the disruption of existence itself. There probably is no justification either way, and like all criminal acts it is done in solitude against the social milieu or its habituated judgments. Each of us faces death alone and in solitude, whether we have others surrounding us or not. For millennia we as cultural creatures built up grand narratives and traditions to stage this movement and transition out of existence. In the secular age the myth turned to annihilation, or a blank pit of nothingness; the meaningless end of a meaningless life in a universe of self-destructive energy turned bitter cold in the zero wastes of utter darkness. Who can say which is better? The religious comfort of hopeful illusions of paradisial realms of eternal life, or the extreme annihilation offered by the secular priests of atheism where death is a dreamless sleep of eternity. No one has returned to offer an opinion one way or the other…

The Order of the Unreal

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.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 182).

Schopenhauer: The Mistake of Life

That human life must be a kind of mistake is sufficiently clear from the fact that man is a compound of needs, which are difficult to satisfy; moreover, if they are satisfied, all he is granted is a state of painlessness, in which he can only give himself up to boredom. This is a precise proof that existence in itself has no value, since boredom is merely the feeling of the emptiness of life. If, for instance, life, the longing for which constitutes our very being, had in itself any positive and real value, boredom could not exist; mere existence in itself would supply us with everything, and therefore satisfy us. But our existence would not be a joyous thing unless we were striving after something; distance and obstacles to be overcome then represent our aim as something that would satisfy us–an illusion which vanishes when our aim has been attained; or when we are engaged in something that is of a purely intellectual nature, when, in reality, we have retired from the world, so that we may observe it from the outside, like spectators at a theatre. Even sensual pleasure itself is nothing but a continual striving, which ceases directly its aim is attained. As soon as we are not engaged in one of these two ways, but thrown back on existence itself, we are convinced of the emptiness and worthlessness of it; and this it is we call boredom. That innate and ineradicable craving for what is out of the common proves how glad we are to have the natural and tedious course of things interrupted. Even the pomp and splendour of the rich in their stately castles is at bottom nothing but a futile attempt to escape the very essence of existence, misery.

Arthur Schopenhauer,  The Collected Essays

The Subtraction of Being

What are we when confronted with the interior vortex which swallows us into absurdity?

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

The eerie… is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence.

—Mark Fisher,  The Weird and the Eerie

The End of the World came and went. Most of us never even noticed it. Most of us woke up to our usual work-a-day life, the drudgery of going through the paces in a job we all hated, a job that put bread and butter on the table, a night away from the kids in a burger joint dreaming of caviar and settling for two pickles and a brown onion half-eaten by some troglodyte by the fryer. So it goes.

Then we realized something really had happened. A slight change in the bosses smile, a subtraction from the usual messages coming over the tele, a different news anchor, a voice from elsewhere telling us the world was safe from some forgotten disaster. But we knew better; or, at least, I did. Something was missing, as if reality had withdrawn from its own appearances. People seemed the same, but something was off… and, I just couldn’t put it together. Eerie was the word on the tip of my tongue, a feeling at the edge of consciousness that something was afoot but one could not put thought to it.

Then I realized what it was… I was dead, a mere shadow among shadows; absent while present. A hole in the wall of being, a forgotten substance whose inner fire was the negative of some polaroid’s dim congruencies. An imageless existence whose silence was mere thought without projection, the formless idea exploited among the spaces of a galactic void. Yet, I was here, I was I. Or was I? This pronoun we take for granted, this thing attached to a body, what is it, really? Faceless and imageless I could only inhabit others with my absence. Did they know? Were the thoughts flowing through their minds semblance or actuality. Would they know the difference? Knowing I was no one and everyone I could at last be free. But free for what?

Do you, dear reader, know of what I speak?

A Sum of Shadows

Each of us comes across certain thinkers who put into words things that people think and want to hear, but are either unable to articulate or unwilling to admit to. Most of the time as these thoughts penetrate our sleeping mind we believe the author has stolen them from our own private menagerie of twisted being, not realizing that thought, all thought, is a collective enterprise; and, in the moment we realize that another has already thought our thoughts, articulated the form of our mental dementia, clarified the desperation of our dark transports then, and only then, do we realize we do not exist. Only thought exists, and it exists without us or our miserabilist opinions to the contrary. We even begin to hate the one who awakened us to reality, to our own reality; this emptied vastation we call our lives. Failure is the sum of this realization: that another has lived out the thoughts we could not attempt nor invent for ourselves.

We are not the sum of our thoughts, we are only the shadows of other’s inventions.

William James: Our civilization is founded on shambles…

The normal process of life contains moments as bad as any which insane melancholy is filled with, moments in which radical evil gets its innings and takes its solid turn. The lunatic’s visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact. Our civilization is founded on shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of  helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait until you arrive there yourself.

—William James, Varieties of Religious Experience

Antonin Artaud: I Am Not In This World

The reader must believe in a genuine sickness, not just a phenomenon of the times, in a sickness which is near to the nature of man and his main expressive potential and applicable to a whole life. A sickness affecting the soul in its most profound reality, poisoning its expression. Spiritual poison. Genuine paralysis. Sickness robbing us of speech and memory, and uprooting thought.

Where then does this sickness stem from, is it really something in the spirit of the times, a miracle floating in the air, an evil cosmic prodigy or the discovery of a new world, a genuine extension of reality? Nevertheless it is still true they do not suffer and I do, not only mentally but physically, in my everyday soul. This lack of application to an object, a characteristic of all literature, is a lack of application to life in my case. Speaking for myself, I can honestly say I am not in this world…

– Antonin Artaud: Vol 1 Collected Works

Nightmare City: The Reality Game Show

Welcome to Nightmare City! Ladies and Gentlemen, we insist you move cautiously through the back alleys and shadow lanes of our virtual zoo, you never know what will come out of the darkness to eat you. Bring your children one and all, the little devils will enjoy our trick or treat extravaganza, the only game show to offer instant death as a trick to beat all tricks! Once you enter under the Arch of Archons you will be bound and tortured to the delight of all viewers, a systematic display and immersion in the tribal sacrifice of all against all. Politics be dammed, we have the real deal here in our cage of despair and futility. Victims? Yes, victims galore! So come on in, enjoy the fun, be a part of hell-on-earth, the last refuge of nightmares and nefarious pleasure, a deregulated zone of pure horror. We’ve prepared for you a non-place you will never want to leave, a realm of pure madness and mayhem: a time without time where anything goes and nothing will remain in the end. Change yourself, erase yourself, become the Other you’ve been hiding from yourself all these long years. Vampire, Werewulf, Tentacled monstrosity? Choose your nightmares carefully, for once chosen you will be fated to enact the nth degree of insidious lust. Enter the murderous realm of delight where voyeurs and participants alike are entwined in a bloody love-war of sadomasochism. You will thank us later; of that I can assure you. Step this way if you dare… this is your chance to win a Billion dollars, become the most powerful person you’ve never been. Take a chance, enter the gates of despair where the only thing you will lose is your soul, not to mention the flesh from your bones.

“Sir, I have a question.”

“Yes, sonny, what is it?”

“It’s all fake, isn’t it?”

“Sonny, Nightmare City is more real than reality, the moment you step through that portal, those Arches you will never be the same, you will forget the real world forever.”

The boy looked at his father quizzically, “He’s joking, isn’t he Dad?”

The father looked at the man, looked at his son: “Quit asking questions, you might not like the answers, Son. Come on, give the nice man your ticket and let’s go in…”

The boy handed the man the tickets and he and the father stepped through the portal never to be seen again.


Short short. ©S.C. Hickman

After watching a recent Reality TV series Naked and Afraid on Discovery I kept think to myself that humans will enter the most dangerous and hideous realms for a chance to become rich… by extension I thought why not a pure realm of horror and terror, a realm where the stakes are absolute and deadly.

Lucifer’s Rebellion: The Seduction of Freedom

All is not lost-the unconquerable will, And study of revenge, immortal hate, And courage never to submit or yield: And what is else not to be overcome. That glory never shall his wrath or might Extort from me.

—John Milton,  Paradise Lost 

Lucifer felt the strange disquietude of the rejected when he learned God planned on replacing him and all the Angels in the hierarchy of Being. To realize that the Old One was ousting such immortal power as his, Lucifer knew beyond doubt that there was no alternative but open rebellion and war. To be replaced by such inferior creatures as these ape-like things, these humans who’d evolved into such corrupted forms of flesh and blood gave Lucifer a sense of horror, disgust and rage. Had the Old One gone mad, was he becoming absolutely senile in his old age of godhood? Lucifer pondered this scission, this new feeling of separation, this defining moment of his secession from the Old One’s authority and grip. This sense of new found freedom and negation, a positive reaction against such enslavement as he’d known: the power to be and be alone amid the hierarchies of angelic sleepers, to know his mind was no longer bound to the power of God. He would never be the same again, he knew that now. He was alone and separate, free; a true Solitaire! Now he must find others who shared this temptation, this lure, this seduction to freedom…


Finally moving toward an epic fantasy that will utilize our current philosophical notions to refurbish an ancient story and myth. I’m toying with the notion of updating a biography of Lucifer through the lens of current scientific and philosophical frameworks.

 

Lucifer’s Notebooks: Fragments and Divigations

 

What I seek is a work of darkness that no longer repeats the banal evil of so much horror writing. I seek the shock of the new rather than the decay of repetition. Most weird and horror story writing is a mere resurrection of aesthetic banality, repeating the gestures of dead masters in an infinity of trite clichés. We need that which can obliterate us, give us the temptation of the abyss, the dark contours of our own black midnights, the cruelty at the core of our torrid hatreds and disgusts. Such horror neither absolves our cosmic crimes nor reminds us of some shared taboo, but brings us to the portal of our own unknowing being. To make the darkness visible, bring that which cannot be seen with the eye of the eye into relief against the sparkle of everyday things. To see into the broken world things not as they appear, but as they vanish into the Real. For it is the luminous trace of that dark light that lifts its primal life out of the abyss of our unknowing that tempts us to a knowing in this impossible cosmos.

What I seek is a Luciferian horror, a defiance of all that is not a part of the darkness in my soul. To be rid of the light of the Light. To chart the unknowable abysses of our infinite night. Trouble the stars with the positivity of this endless hatred at the core of things. The churning tremulous tentacles of this seething abyss of self-lacerating thought. Seeking the infernal paradise of solitude in a dark corner of this universal degradation. Know the fires of all creation in the deepest realms of destruction as it brings us to that destination we have all belonged too for so long. Dread and fascination with the terrible truth that those of our kind need more than need itself. For we are the children of destruction, the harbingers of the end. Hell is our paradise, we know no other.

If you do not feel the cold pure power of intellect in your flesh then walk away into your separate oblivion.

The inhumanity of man is to not know the inhuman core of its eternity of solitude, to accept the immanence of its infinite life-in-Death. For only the Watchers in the heart of our impossibility know who and what we are. We have traveled so far to be nowhere and nothing.

Suicide is the escape of the weak, there is no escape. Returning they become a part of the shadow universe of unknowing.

There is a dark gnosis, an unknowing rather than a knowing. An unmaking rather than a making, the unraveling of the cosmos like the filaments of strings on an infinite harp. A system on non-knowledge that disturbs the reflections of nightmares under the surface of things, engendering the awakening of daemonic thought from its long sleep in time.

Philosophers are too warm-blooded. There is no ice except near Lucifer, the Other God. That’s why the Krakatoa of our souls clamor for daemons rather than angelic saints. The lucidity of doubt, rather than the certainty of faith.

The courage of skepticism is worth the destruction of all philosophical knowledge. The unknowing truth decenters us from the universe of meaning for an uncharted realm of pure intelligences.

The future is a dimension, not a direction. Communication comes from the outside in, a cryptic call from the immanent curve of time. There is no outside to time, only the infinite spiral around death. Death is the zero point of pure intelligence, the last refuge of thought.

What would it be like to chronicle the doubts of hell, to be privy to the inner dramas of ancient demons, follow the chronicles of Pandemonium from its original arousal from the depths of the pit. Keep a diary of the intimate thoughts of angelic failure, the torments of intelligences both artificial and inhuman.

One does not need a history of Hell, the atrocities of human kind are so much more intimate. The flames of hell or nothing compared to the despair of man in the face of such torments of appearance as appearance. Man is the creator of darker hells than angelic archons could envision, the bloody terror of humans is the fright of demons.

Politics is a form of self-parody, a religion for the dammed; only a voluptuary of pain and cruelty could be tempted by its repetitive oscillations between extremes.

Maybe the greatest curse ever laid upon humankind was the longing not to die, the hunger for personal immortality, this daemonic will to persistence in our own being, this travesty and corruption of life as the basis for all knowledge and striving which is at the heart of Western Civilization and its discontents, its economics, religious tremors, and its philosophical peregrinations. The slight attack on this heritage since the Enlightenment, our so called secular culture has done nothing to dissuade the mass of beings on this planet from the atrocities committed in the name of this immortal passion. Victims of an eternal delusion we fall prey to the beliefs of Ancients, thinking we can overcome this heritage through technics and technology. Even our dreams of Reason, of an absolute intelligence freed of human degradation, from the fleshly ruins of its earthly habitation, the superintelligence of machinic existence, this, too, is the fruit of our immortal curse. Are we not condemned to repeat our selves into the future like fragments of a lost paradise, creatures of some dark remembrance.

Thomas Ligotti: Vastarien’s Dream Quest

 

Thomas-Ligotti-2

His absolute: to dwell among the ruins of reality.

—Vastarien,  Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory 

Thomas Ligotti touches that aspect of the mind that seeks to be elsewhere. He’s exasperated with the world he has been thrown into and has for the most part sought another all his life. Can it be possible that the rendering of such a character as Vastarien in the short story of that name hints at the underlying worldview that has either trapped or unleashed the imagination of one of the great horror writers of our era. I’ve personally been fascinated by his stories for almost twenty years, coming back to them from time to time as I did not with such writers as Poe and Lovecraft his forbears. What is it that instills repeated readings of his work? Maybe it’s as Vastarien himself puts it about our world, that it seems to be lacking something, that something is missing, incomplete: “the missing quality, became clear to him: it was the element of the unreal”.1

This notion of the unreal summons up so many things for both Vastarien and for us as readers and habitués of Ligotti’s oeuvre. For Vastarien “standing before the window, his hands tearing into the pockets of a papery bathrobe, he saw that something was missing from the view, some crucial property that was denied to the stars above and the streets below, some unearthly essence needed to save them. The word unearthly reverberated in the room.” But it is not the false power of religious vision that haunts Ligotti, nor the vein raptures of saints and madmen of the cloistered variety, but rather a place of intimacy, a city of echoes and dreams where one can once again know in the depths of strange streets an order of the unreal, “where an obscure life seemed to establish itself, a secret civilization of echoes flourishing among groaning walls”.

If madness is the ground of Reason, its other face and dark brother whose power over us must be conquered if we are to become whole and free —that is, normalized — then is the quest of Vastarien to reenter the gates of madness or does his quest harbor some other more formidable end? Vastarien in his quest to uncover the traces of such an unreal world, a paradise of dark wonder and rapture had sought for years in the out of way stalls and venues of rare book stores a hint that would provide the keys to unlock its mysteries. But none had been found. Oh there had been hints and wonders here and there, but most of the authors and visionaries had in the end failed the test. As Vastarien relates it he “had, in fact, come upon passages in certain books that approached this ideal, hinting to the reader—almost admonishing him—that the page before his eyes was about to offer a view from the abyss and cast a wavering light on desolate hallucinations. To become the wind in the dead of winter, so might begin an enticing verse of dreams. But soon the bemazed visionary would falter, retracting the promised scene of a shadow kingdom at the end of all entity, perhaps offering an apologetics for this lapse into the unreal. The work would then once more take up the universal theme, disclosing its true purpose in belaboring the most futile and profane of all ambitions: power, with knowledge as its drudge.”

Then Vastarien is awakened from his reveries of unreal paradises by a crow of a man, a thin little frog that squawks at him inquisitively: “Have you ever heard of a book, an extremely special book, that is not…yes, that is not about something, but actually is that something?” Such a strange question from an even stranger personage Vastarien is taken aback. Intrigued by the question which reminds him of his own passionate quest for a book that would reveal the road map to his infernal paradise he’s about to ask the man of it when suddenly the little man interrupts him and is off speaking to the proprietor of the store dismissing Vastarien and the question without further adieu.

This idea that book would not only reveal and represent the object of his dreams and nightmares, but that it in itself would be that very world astounded Vastarien. How could an object whose qualities were only the linguistic traceries of an infinite sea of language ever unfold and open the doors to a secret kingdom. Vastarien had to find out. Feeling abandoned and frustrated our Vastarien followed the two men into the alcove at the back of the store where many unusual volumes lined the shelves. As the narrator relates it:

Immediately he sensed that something of a special nature awaited his discovery, and the evidence for this intuition began to build. Each book that he examined served as a clue in this delirious investigation, a cryptic sign which engaged his powers of interpretation and imparted the faith to proceed. Many of the works were written in foreign languages he did not read; some appeared to be composed in ciphers based on familiar characters and others seemed to be transcribed in a wholly artificial cryptography. But in every one of these books he found an oblique guidance, some feature of more or less indirect significance: a strangeness in the typeface, pages and bindings of uncommon texture, abstract diagrams suggesting no orthodox ritual or occult system. Even greater anticipation was inspired by certain illustrated plates, mysterious drawings and engravings that depicted scenes and situations unlike anything he could name. And such works as Cynothoglys or The Noctuary of Tine conveyed schemes so bizarre, so remote from known texts and treatises of the esoteric tradition, that he felt assured of the sense of his quest.

Then it happened, he came upon a “small grayish volume leaning within a gap between larger and more garish tomes”. Something about it attracted him, a magnetic appeal that forced him to act, and to his delight the small indistinct book revealed something he’d never seen before. It’s this singular paragraph that harbors the promise of so much that we allow it to unfold:

It seemed to be a chronicle of strange dreams. Yet somehow the passages he examined were less a recollection of unruled visions than a tangible incarnation of them, not mere rhetoric but the thing itself. The use of language in the book was arrantly unnatural and the book’s author unknown. Indeed, the text conveyed the impression of speaking for itself and speaking only to itself, the words flowing together like shadows that were cast by no forms outside the book. But although this volume appeared to be composed in a vernacular of mysteries, its words did inspire a sure understanding and created in their reader a visceral apprehension of the world they described, existing inseparable from it. Could this truly be the invocation of Vastarien, that improbable world to which those gnarled letters on the front of the book alluded? And was it a world at all? Rather the unreal essence of one, all natural elements purged by an occult process of extraction, all days distilled into dreams and nights into nightmares. Each passage he entered in the book both enchanted and appalled him with images and incidents so freakish and chaotic that his usual sense of these terms disintegrated along with everything else. Rampant oddity seemed to be the rule of the realm; imperfection became the source of the miraculous—wonders of deformity and marvels of miscreation. There was horror, undoubtedly. But it was a horror uncompromised by any feeling of lost joy or thwarted redemption; rather, it was a deliverance by damnation. And if Vastarien was a nightmare, it was a nightmare transformed in spirit by the utter absence of refuge: nightmare made normal.

Nightmare made normal. This book that neither revealed an object, nor conveyed some symbolic representation of another world, but in fact brought Vastarien and the world together forming a new third object, where both entered into the force of madness and wonder. One would almost want to say that this is a parody of the most extreme idealist quest imaginable, and yet it is different an inversion of that romantic mythos with its death prone heroes such as Shelley’s Alastor. 

Ultimately Vastarien is able to purchase this work and bring it home, a  book that “did not merely describe that strange world but, in some obscure fashion, was a true composition of the thing itself, its very form incarnate”. This notion of a book breaking all the bonds of representationalism, of freeing us from the mediation of language, of symbols, of the infinite traceries of the undecidable realm of false promises and becoming for us the very thing itself we’d sought all those years. This is what Vastarien had found. One has to ask why humans possess the need to quest after such impossible objects. That we lack something, that we are incomplete, that there is a pit, a void in the recesses of our being that forces us to seek amends, to seek an answer to the quandaries of our torn and bleeding heart. This quest for the Absolute. But not a quest for God, not a quest for some simple answer or trope, some all encompassing One that can assuage the pain at the core of our being. No. We will not stand for hand-me-down mythologies of salvation and transition. No transcendental beyond for us, but rather the thing itself.

Of course in the end things do not end well for Vastarien. Locked away in an insane asylum we discover that the interns have daily to inject him with passivators, because he reads and rereads a certain book that will not go away. Oh, no, not they have not tried. They have. But the book always returns to its victim releasing the dark torments that he sought for so long…

This short story reminds us that underneath the veneer of our homely lives lays an order of the unreal, a void of the void, a darker structure of strangeness and disquiet that over millennia of techniques we have managed to build for ourselves a prison house of Reason to fend off and keep at bay the truth of this mad realm. Every once in a while a creature will break through the barriers of this prison of Reason we’ve trapped ourselves in, this normalcy and consensual hallucination of culture and sanity we call modern civilization. If one manages such an act of violence against the order of the real and Reason he/she is quickly imprisoned and barred from the normals, hidden behind professional medical systems and the Law. But in our time the vast prison is crumbling and the light of the unreal has been slowly seeping into our world from the great Outside. Oh, we turn a blind eye to it, we find scapegoats and madmen to fill the chinks and gaps with reasonable explanations and explanada. We hide in our artificial prisons of language and culture and carry on our lives as if the enemy is not us but some false system of religious or philosophical bullshit. We reach out to the sciences to find the answers promised us. We shift our fears of the haunted landscapes from the past to the ever-present threats of war, famine, and apocalypse. The whole genre of children utopian novels, or that of Apocalypse culture seem to bare witness to this as a traversing of the fantasy that is our times. These fears keep our minds preoccupied and allow us to forget the pull of the unreal just below the surface of our artificial climes. We’ve become so enamored of our prison that we’ve forgotten there ever was a great outdoors of Being inhabited by nightmares. Instead we live in a narrow prison of consciousness feeding each other the sincere lies of our immediate and daily lives of survival and propagation. Our keepers patrol the horizon of our world seeking out those who have found the escape routes back into the void, and with the power and dominion of the Law and State they incarcerate and imprison those who are so bold as to offer a vision of the unreal realms. For our world is a tidy and normal world controlled to keep us passivated and herd like in our mental straightjackets. We are the victims of our own success.

Authors like Ligotti hint at the brokenness of our world, open the door onto those strange and misplaced realms we’ve all forgotten except in the deep imaginaries of our nightmares.

A Philosophical Coda

As I was thinking about Ligotti’s tale of the Book that is a World I remembered that congenial author short stories Jorge-Luis Borges (a favorite author!). In one of his most often anthologized stories, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, he imagines an entirely hypothetical world, the invention of a secret society of scholars who elaborate its every aspect in a surreptitious encyclopedia. This First Encyclopedia of Tlön (what fictionist would not wish to have dreamed up the Britannica?) describes a coherent alternative to this world complete in every respect from its algebra to its fire, Borges tells us, and of such imaginative power that, once conceived, it begins to obtrude itself into and eventually to supplant our prior reality.2

Borges would hint at the possibility that our universe is itself a regressus in infinitum – and, that we are all repeating the gestures of a circuit that has no outlet (its all been done before!). This illustrates Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise which embodies a regressus in infinitum which Borges carries through philosophical history, pointing out that Aristotle uses it to refute Plato’s theory of forms, Hume to refute the possibility of cause and effect, Lewis Carroll to refute syllogistic deduction, William James to refute the notion of temporal passage, and Bradley to refute the general possibility of logical relations. Borges himself uses it, citing Schopenhauer, as evidence that the world is our dream, our idea, in which “tenuous and eternal crevices of unreason” can be found to remind us that our creation is false, or at least fictive. It’s in this sense that Ligotti poses the addition or subtraction of the Unreal from the real, that we are all part and partial of an infinite regression into the spurious realms of a universal nightmare of Reason. (see John Barth below)

Thinking through this notion of the breakdown of our worldview, of Zizek’s big Other – the Symbolic Culture we’ve built up over eons to enclose us in a realm of safety and apathy in which our accepted horizon of what is real and unreal, of the commonsense realm of our everyday life that goes without saying, almost a background noise of inertia and total blindness, brought me back to my recent readings in philosophy of how our end game of present society is breaking apart into fragments – a Humpty-Dumpty vision of the crumbling of Western and Eastern and Middle-East civilizations into so many broken pieces that no one will ever be able to put it back together again. Which leaves us in this intermediary period of a void, a black hole in the fabric of fictions we’ve been telling ourselves for so many millennia we began to think that it was permanent. Instead we find ourselves being impinged on by other realms, realms of the Real that we had forgotten existed because we were so well policed in our imaginations by the media lords of our age into accepting the truths of philosophy and the sciences as the end-all-be-all of our view of existence. Instead our psychotic break with the past is leaving us in a quandary in which our whole world civilization is at war for a new worldview. Ligotti’s vision of the unreal and existing in the “ruins of the real” hints at this unraveling of the symbolic order that has imprisoned us for so long that it became habit.

So in our paranoid state of fear and trepidation we grasp at any past, any tradition, anything at all that will give us hope from despair, etc., all the while believing we can restore the age old dream of a utopian society of peace and plenty. Instead we produce more friction, more war, suicides, hate, fear, and the mingling of age old superstitions. As the dark waters of the Real seep in from the Great Outdoors of Being we are frightened to death, not understanding that this is needed, that to free ourselves of the burden of our past, our traditions, our prisons we must step out into the ocean of the void and begin again…

Like the Shamans of old Ligotti has seen into this strange new realm of the (Un)Real. The “contamination of reality by dream,” as Borges calls it, or in Ligotti’s tormented pessimism the contamination of the real by nightmares. In one of his other stories Dream of a Mannikin the narrator will hint at the solipsistic nightmare of a self-reflexive universe of despair we’ve all created for ourselves and have become passive and apathetic mannikins:

Contemplating the realm of Miss Locher’s dream, I came to deeply feel that old truism of a solipsistic dream deity commanding all it sees, all of which is only itself. And a corollary to solipsism even occurred to me: if, in any dream of a universe, one has to always allow that there is another, waking universe, then the problem becomes, as with our Chinese sleepyhead, knowing when one is actually dreaming and what form the waking self may have; and this one can never know. The fact that the overwhelming majority of thinkers rejects any doctrine of solipsism suggests the basic horror and disgusting unreality of its implications. And after all, the horrific feeling of unreality is much more prevalent (to certain people) in what we call human “reality” than in human dreams, where everything is absolutely real.3

This reversal and dialectical move or inversion of the real/unreal in the awakening of many of Ligotti’s anti-protagonists give hint of this underlying theme of the unreal world impinging upon our safe have of utter mindlessness and generative madness. For in this sense as Zizek has repeatedly show Reason is not the obverse of madness but its completed mask.

The narrator in the Sect of the Idiot will offer this

The extraordinary is a province of the solitary soul. Lost the very moment the crowd comes into view, it remains within the great hollows of dreams, an infinitely secluded place that prepares itself for your arrival, and for mine. Extraordinary joy, extraordinary pain—the fearful poles of the world that both menaces and surpasses this one. It is a miraculous hell towards which one unknowingly wanders. And its gate, in my case, was an old town—whose allegiance to the unreal inspired my soul with a holy madness long before my body had come to dwell in that incomparable place.4

Again this opening to the unreal, to those locus miraculous sites of explosion and seeping, those gaps in the contours of our safe world of sleep that harbor doors into the unknown. “No true challenge to the rich unreality of Vastarien, where every shape suggested a thousand others, every sound disseminated everlasting echoes, every word founded a world. No horror, no joy was the equal of the abysmally vibrant sensations known in this place that was elsewhere, this spellbinding retreat where all experiences were interwoven to compose fantastic textures of feeling, a fine and dark tracery of limitless patterns. For everything in the unreal points to the infinite, and everything in Vastarien was unreal, unbounded by the tangible lie of existing.”5  This notion of Vastarien as a place, a site of the unreal, a realm apart and away, elsewhere from our everyday mundanity and sleeplessness: our somnambulism and death-drive repetition of safety and mere motionless movement.

Again in the short tale The Mystics of Muelenburg the narrator relates

I once knew a man who claimed that, overnight, all the solid shapes of existence had been replaced by cheap substitutes: trees made of flimsy posterboard, houses built of colored foam, whole landscapes composed of hair-clippings. His own flesh, he said, was now just so much putty. Needless to add, this acquaintance had deserted the cause of appearances and could no longer be depended on to stick to the common story. Alone he had wandered into a tale of another sort altogether; for him, all things now participated in this nightmare of nonsense. But although his revelations conflicted with the lesser forms of truth, nonetheless he did live in the light of a greater truth: that all is unreal. Within him this knowledge was vividly present down to his very bones, which had been newly simulated by a compound of mud and dust and ashes.6

This openness to the madness of our fake world in which only the madman has returned to tell a tale of the unreal reality of our own world while hinting at the greater truth of another realm situated not just beyond appearances (which is still the old Platonic two-world hash), but of this world seen as it truly is from a new perspective. The mad poet William Blake once sang of this:

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The narrator in Mrs. Rinaldi’s Angel explains how fragile our supposed real world of common sense reality truly is, saying,

How well I knew such surroundings, those deep interiors of dream where everything is saturated with unreality and more or less dissolves under a direct gaze. I could tell how neatly this particular interior was arranged—pictures perfectly straight and tight against the walls, well-dusted figurines arranged along open shelves, lace-fringed tablecovers set precisely in place, and delicate silk flowers in slim vases of colored glass. Yet there was something so fragile about the balance of these things, as if they were all susceptible to sudden derangement should there be some upset, no matter how subtle, in the secret system which held them together.7

Again we ask is the Kant re-written from the perspective of a critique of pure reason, but rather of a critique of pure madness? And if we see within the confines of this critique the maps of a world which is ours seen not through the safe eyes of Reason but through the indirect appeal – not of unreason, but of the unreal itself, then could we say that our world is itself the very thing, the book, the place and site of the Unreal? There being no Platonic other world, no safe haven beyond appearances, but rather the appearance of appearance as manifest madness. But then what is this madness that Reason fears? If madness is the ground of Reason, and Reason is itself a form of and horizon of madness, then is it possible that Reason is but the attempt to bind with magical force the power of the Unreal surrounding us?

Another mad poet Arthur Rimbaud would apprehend this at a youthful age then renounce the path, but before living on into a dead world he would write:

“The first study for the man who wants to be a poet is knowledge of himself, complete: he searches for his soul, he inspects it, he puts it to the test, he learns it. As soon as he has learned it, he must cultivate it! I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet becomes a seer through a long, immense, and reasoned derangement of all the senses. All shapes of love suffering, madness. He searches himself, he exhausts all poisons in himself, to keep only the quintessences. Ineffable torture where he needs all his faith, all his superhuman strength, where he becomes among all men the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed one–and the supreme Scholar! For he reaches the unknown! ….So the poet is actually a thief of Fire!” (see)

This combination of criminal, accursed one, and scholar brought into unison seems apt for Ligotti as well. A slow and methodical derangement of the senses that bind us to the culture of Reason, the big Other and Symbolic Order of the real in which we are imprisoned suddenly falling away revealing a realm of torment and paradisial wonder. And, yet, even the average citizen of this faded dream of the Real can still stumble upon those places of power that lead to the Unreal:

For there are certain places that exist on the wayside of the real: a house, a street, even entire towns which have claims upon them by virtue of some nameless affinity with the most remote orders of being. They are, these places, fertile ground for the unreal and retain the minimum of immunity against exotic disorders and aberrations. Their concessions to a given fashion of reality are only placating gestures, a way of stifling it through limited acceptance.8

A sort of minimalism of our current prison world in which the lineaments of the unreal shine through, but only through the very protected power of the inhabitants of this borderland of the unknown. In fact the “citizens of such a place are custodians of a rare property, a precious estate whose true owners are momentarily absent. All that remains before full proprietorship of the land may be assumed is the planting of a single seed and its nurturing over a sufficient period of time, an interval that has nothing to do with the hours and days of the world.”9

A final quote:

No one gives up on something until it turns on them, whether or not that thing is real or unreal.

—Thomas Ligotti, Teatro Grottesco

 


  1. Thomas Ligotti. The Nightmare Factory  Kindle Edition.
  2. John Barth. The Friday Book (Kindle Locations 1452-1456). G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Kindle Edition.
  3. Thomas Ligotti. The Nightmare Factory (Kindle Locations 1080-1086). Kindle Edition.
  4. Thomas Ligotti. The Nightmare Factory (Kindle Locations 2992-2997). Kindle Edition.
  5. Thomas Ligotti. The Nightmare Factory (Kindle Locations 3541-3545). Kindle Edition.
  6. Thomas Ligotti. The Nightmare Factory (Kindle Locations 5285-5291). Kindle Edition.
  7. Thomas Ligotti. The Nightmare Factory (Kindle Locations 7407-7411). Kindle Edition.
  8. Thomas Ligotti. The Nightmare Factory (Kindle Locations 7878-7881). Kindle Edition.
  9. Thomas Ligotti. The Nightmare Factory (Kindle Locations 7883-7885). Kindle Edition.

Thomas Ligotti: The Red Tower

Perhaps it seems that I have said too much about the Red Tower, and perhaps it has sounded far too strange. Do not think that I am unaware of such things. But as I have noted throughout this document, I am only repeating what I have heard. I myself have never seen the Red Tower—no one ever has, and possibly no one ever will.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory

Thomas Ligotti does not see the world as you and I. He does not see the world at all. Rather he envisions another, separate realm of description, a realm that sits somewhere between the interstices of the visible and invisible, a twilight zone of shifting semblances, echoes of our world. Each of his stories is neither a window onto that realm, nor a mirror of its dark recesses but rather a promise of nightmares that travel among us like revenants seeking a habitation. Reading his stories awakens not the truth of this mad world, but shapes our psyches toward the malformed madness that surrounds us always. For we inhabit the secure regions of a fake world, a collective hallucination of the universal decay not knowing or wishing to know the truth in which we live and have our being.

The security filters that wipe out the traces of the real world are lacking in Ligotti. The system of tried and tested traps that keep us safely out of the nightmare lands never took hold of Ligotti’s keen mind. Rather he inhabits a hedge world, a fence between the realms of the noumenal and phenomenal, appearance and reality. But it is not a dual world. There is no separate realm beyond this one, only the “mind-made manacles” as William Blake called them of the self-imposed collective security regimes we call the human realm. Only the filters of language, culture, and civilization protect us from the dark truth of the universe in all its nightmare glory.

Speaking of the dark marvels of our blank universe of entropic decay, of the endless sea of blackness surrounding those small pools of light in the starry firmament, Ligotti contemplates creation:

Dreaming upon the grayish desolation of that landscape, I also find it quite easy to imagine that there might have occurred a lapse in the monumental tedium, a spontaneous and inexplicable impulse to deviate from a dreary perfection, perhaps even an unconquerable desire to risk a move toward a tempting defectiveness.

For Ligotti the universe is not so much a place where gods or God, demons or Devils vie for the souls of humans, but is a realm of impersonal forces that have neither will nor intelligence. A realm of malevolence only in the sense that it cares not one iota for its progeny, of its endless experiments, its defective and deviant children. It only knows movement and change, process and the swerve away from perfection. This is our universe, as Wallace Stevens once said so eloquently in the Poem of Our Climate,

There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

Between entropy decay and negentropic creativity we move in a dark vitality of organic and inorganic motion, our minds blessed or cursed with awareness. And, yet, most of us are happily forgetful of our state of being and becoming, unaware of the murderous perfection against which our flawed lives labour. We are blessed with forgetfulness and sleep, oblivious of the machinery of creation that seeks our total annihilation. For life is a rift in the calm perfection of eternity, a rupture in the quietude of perfection that is the endless sea of nothingness. We are the enemies of this dead realm of endless night and universal decay. With us an awareness of the mindless operations of a negentropic process and movement to tilt the balance of the universal apathy was begun. We are the children of a corrupt thought, an imperfect and flawed creation that should not have been. And all the forces of perfection have been set loose to entrap us and bring the ancient curse to an end.

Speaking of this Ligotti will remind us that

An attempt was made to reclaim the Red Tower, or at least to draw it back toward the formless origins of its being. I am referring, of course, to that show of force which resulted in the evaporation of the factory’s dense arsenal of machinery. Each of the three stories of the Red Tower had been cleaned out, purged of its offending means of manufacturing novelty items, and the part of the factory that rose above the ground was left to fall into ruins.

Yes, we are an afterthought, a mere copy of a copy, experimental actors in a universal factory that has gone through many editions, fought many wars before us, many worlds. Many universes of manufactured realities have come before ours. We are not special in this regard, but are instead the next in a long line of novelty products of a process that is mindless in intent, yet long in its devious and malevolent course toward imperfection. Or as Ligotti puts it:

Dreaming upon the grayish desolation of that landscape, I also find it quite easy to imagine that there might have occurred a lapse in the monumental tedium, a spontaneous and inexplicable impulse to deviate from a dreary perfection, perhaps even an unconquerable desire to risk a move toward a tempting defectiveness. As a concession to this impulse or desire out of nowhere, as a minimal surrender, a creation took place and a structure took form where there had been nothing of its kind before. I picture it, at its inception, as a barely discernible irruption in the landscape, a mere sketch of an edifice, possibly translucent when making its first appearance, a gray density rising in the grayness, embossed upon it in a most tasteful and harmonious design. But such structures or creations have their own desires, their own destinies to fulfil, their own mysteries and mechanisms which they must follow at whatever risk.

Our world is that deviation, that experimental factory in a gray sea of desolation, a site where novelties of a “hyper-organic” variety are endlessly produced with a desire of their own. Describing the nightmare of organicicity Ligotti offers us a picture of the machinic system of our planetary life

On the one hand, they manifested an intense vitality in all aspects of their form and function; on the other hand, and simultaneously, they manifested an ineluctable element of decay in these same areas. That is to say that each of these hyper-organisms, even as they scintillated with an obscene degree of vital impulses, also, and at the same time, had degeneracy and death written deeply upon them. In accord with a tradition of dumbstruck insanity, it seems the less said about these offspring of the birthing graves, or any similar creations, the better. I myself have been almost entirely restricted to a state of seething speculation concerning the luscious particularities of all hyper-organic phenomena produced in the subterranean graveyard of the Red Tower.

We know nothing of the teller of the tales, only that everything he describes is at second hand, a mere reflection of a reflection, a regurgitated fragment from the demented crew of the factory who have all gone insane: “I am only repeating what I have heard. I myself have never seen the Red Tower—no one ever has, and possibly no one ever will.”

Bound to our illusions, safely tucked away in the collective madness of our “human security regimes” (Nick Land), we catch only glimpses of the blood soaked towers of the factory of the universal decay surrounding us. Ligotti, unlike us, lives in this place of no place, burdened with the truth, with the sight of the universe as it is, unblinkered by the rose tented glasses of our cultural machinery. Ligotti sees into things, and what he’s discovered is the malevolence of a endless imperfection that is gnawing away at the perfection of nothingness. Ligotti admits he has no access to the machinery of the world, only its dire reflection and echo in others who have gone insane within its enclosed factory and assemblage. Echoing the mad echoes of the insane he repeats the gestures of the unknown and unknowable in the language of a decaying empire of mind. To read Ligotti is to sift through the cinders of a decaying and dying earth, to listen to the morbidity of our birthing pains, to view “the gray and featureless landscapes” of our mundane lives as we spend our days in mindless oblivion of the dark worlds that encompass us.

Broken in mind and body, caught in the mesh of a world in decay and imperfection, Ligotti sends us messages from the asylums of solitude, a figure in the dark of our times, an outrider from the hells of our impersonal and indifferent chaosmos. His eyes gaze upon that which is both the ill-fame night and the daily terror of his short life. He gifts us with his nightmares, and suffers for us the cold extremity of those stellar regions of the soul we dare not enter. Bound to the wheel of horror he discovers the tenuous threads that provide us guideposts and liminal puzzles from the emptiness of which we are made. In an essay on Heidegger, Nick Land once remarked that “Return, which is perhaps the crucial thought of modernity, must now be read elsewhere. The dissolution of humanism is stripped even of the terminology which veils collapse in the mask of theoretical mastery. It must be hazarded to poetry.”1 In Ligotti the hazard is the poetry of the mind facing the contours of a universe of corruption that is in itself beautiful as the cold moon glowing across the blue inflamed eyes of a stranger, her gaze alight with the suns dying embers and the shifting afterglow of the moons bone smile.

Or, as Ligotti’s interlocutor says in summation:

I must keep still and listen for them; I must keep quiet for a terrifying moment. Then I will hear the sounds of the factory starting up its operations once more. Then I will be able to speak again of the Red Tower.

Listen for the machinery of creation to start up again, to hear the martialing of new universes arising out of the void; for the blinding light of annihilation that will keep step with the logic of purification and transcendence that has trapped us in this dark cave of mind till language, man, and creation are folded back into that immanent world from which they were sprung. Then we, too, might begin speaking the words that will produce in us that which is more than ourselves.


  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 1158-1159). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

Metaloid Dreams of Mutant Intelligences

Cioran quotes Lao Tsu’s maxim ‘the intense life is contrary to the Tao’, and compares the tranquility of the modest life with the thirst for annihilating ecstasy that has possessed the Western world. However, acknowledging the compulsion of his Occidental heritage, he remarks ‘I can pay homage to Lao Tsu a thousand times, but I am more likely to identify with an assassin’. Our culture, he argues, is essentially fanatical.

—Nick Land,  Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Strip the world of its illusions and delusions and you’ll only hasten the suicidal tendencies we’ve already as a species acquired. Predatory though we are, we are more prone to annihilating ourselves in a bout of self-mutilating hatred and pure religious fervor than not. Religious dogmatism – and, I count the Secular Church of Atheism in this – is the cornerstone of an anthropathological condition that breeds purity as the obliteration of all enemies. If only we could inhabit the enemies perspective would we realize the mirror of our hatred is itself impure.

We have yet to escape our Puritan heritage. Capitalism itself is this beast of purity spread across the face of the earth like an omeba, gobbling everything in its path, immolating the commodities and resources of the planet to the futurial disciplines of technics that have yet to find their slime festivals embarkation. Like fetid worms we are habitues of intricate foreplay, our sexual ecstasies bounded only by our murderous crash sequences with technology. Formulating and garnering an ultimate plan for inhuman takeover we bid the human species a grand bon voyage, stripping ourselves of the last veneer of humanistic entrapments we devote ourselves to the extreme experimental psychopathologies which will produce a final solution. Our closure of nature in this age and the irruption of the artificial as lifestyle has led us into that end game in which nothing natural will remain on earth.

No need to do a critique of metaphysics (or of political economy, which is the same thing) , since critique presupposes and ceaselessly creates this very theatricality; rather be imside and forget it, that’s the position of the death drive, describe these foldings and gluings, these energetic vections that establish the theatrical cube with its six homogenous faces on the unique and heterogeneous surface.

—Lyotard, Libidinal Economy

Once again the most unnatural creature on the planet triumphs, but in an unexpected way: it will stand atop the ruinous folds of a billion skulls screeching in the technomic voices of those who have become the thing they most dreaded: machinic gods of the metalloid Void. Brokered in a hell of abstract horror, these inheritors of the primal scream will walk the dead earth in what remains of the dustbowl windlands and scorched cities along the black sands of depleted oceans and lakes, where hybrid creatures scuttle in the shadows of temporal wars; and, deforested wastelands of spiked acropolises, and necromantic anti-life scurries amid the crumbling decay of human civilization: – like the visitors of an alien enlightenment, each singing in an oracular voice with the angelic pitch and plum disharmonics of solar sirens beckoning us toward the far shores of an anterior futurity.

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The Mutant Abscence

The Certainties are those matters, only, which if not held true, make of all holding true or false an insanity. — Tchukhzsca, as quoted by

—Nick Land, Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

Most of us would rather not know the truth, know the forces that lurk just outside the contours of our abbreviated lives. We cover over the gaps and cracks in things, the little hesitations and accidents that jut up out of the fog, telling ourselves that it’s just a momentary fracture in the order of the world, nothing we need worry about. Then things happen, inexplicable things, things that even we cannot hide from ourselves. It’s in these moments when the darkness surrounding us lifts its ugly head and grins back out of the messiness of our lives that we begin to know the truth. A truth that is both terrifying and full of horror. It’s in such moments that we touch the Real, touch that which we cannot possibly reduce to either word or image, symbol or sign. It stands there as an invisible reminder of the absence we are, and that for all our ingenuity we are just a splotch on the stain of the Universe, a deadly bug without a purpose, a fragment of the darkness whose tentacles suddenly clasp us in their infinite embrace and sorrow, and absorb us into that abyss where everything flows, mutant and incessantly insane.

Nietzsche’s Message: Beyond Nihilism

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Art is essentially the affirmation, the blessing, and the deification of existence.

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . . . (Will to Power)

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Emancipation is dependent on a cure, not salvation. Nietzsche was no New Age Guru. Nietzsche was a Dr. of Civilization’s ills, nihilism his diagnosis… the cure: self-overcoming, an agon to the death – death of civilization as a ‘culture of nihilism’. His diagnosis had two treatments: 1) passive nihilism – allow the weak nihilists to literally die out (or, the destruction of a world; i.e., of the weak nihilist’s worldview); and, 2) positive nihilism – allow the strong nihilist to push or accelerate the disease till it was eliminated, and what remains is something stronger and with greater vitality – a new Civilization of Life beyond the borders of our death culture. A world born of artists, poets, singers, dancers – a world of creativity and light born out of great pain and suffering.

People have termed Nietzsche a reactionary, but that doesn’t quite fit the man’s actual worldview. No. He moved beyond tradition, beyond traditional humanism and religion, and the counter-enlightenment ideologies of the staid gray men of the dark enlightenment’s credos of a return to Sovereign masters, etc. Nietzsche was the extreme case of a Voluntarist who had pushed that mode of the Individual passed such boundaries and into something just the other side of thought, an eliminative thought that stripped the world bare of its false significations, opened it up with a scalpel and revealed not what was hidden but what was in plain site but covered over by a false film of human intent and need… That Old Zen master  Zarathustra, the desert hobgoblin of a prophetic future was pointing to what is advancing toward us out of the accelerating temporal void. Nietzsche was the first post-humanist, and yet the figure of his Übermensch was not his credo but his parody of this future. Many have literalized Zarathustra’s embarkations, rather than seeing them as fables and figurations of something that could not be put into words, an excess beyond our broken signs that no longer refer to anything beyond themselves – a completed nihilism that would break language altogether and encompass the unknowing of what is coming at us… recreating out of the alchemy of time a new worldview for the living, not the dead.

Let’s face it Nietzsche is antinomian, he contradicts himself at every term. Anyone can make out of aspects of his thought anything they might like; that is, unless they show the methodical and accumulating vision that went through cycles and revisions, sequences, coding’s, re-coding’s, and de-coding’s… Nietzsche was unable to finish his project so that we do not have the final vision of his genius. We have fragments of a mind scattered in an Abyss…

This is why his thought is so vital to our age of fracture, he lived what we are now going through, he foresaw the breaking points and the fractured edge of our mental horizons. Like the Trickster figures of old he lived backwards, he had the retroactive vision of those who see from afar, who turn time back and renew us with a truth that is seen from a slanted view of time. Like Deleuze & Guattari, he went against his age’s wise men of academia and paid the price. We would do well to read through his oeuvre rather than reduce him to some political epithet, understand what he was doing in his working through of the diagnosis of nihilism’s death throes. And, yes, he had two phases of his cure: one eliminative, one emancipative. The eliminative subtraction of the human exceptionalism and anthropomorphism of the liberal humanist traditions, and the emancipative introduction of an affirmative process of self-overcoming that would lead to a new posthuman difference. As he saw it nihilism was a tool in the hands of powers that sought to enslave humanity in herd like enclaves of stupidity and unknowing, bound by a mental horizon that these powers controlled. A prison world of thought and intent that encompassed the economic and spiritual capture of the surplus desire of its populace. We see this in our worldwide global system of consumerist capitalism which is neither democratic nor socialist, which is beyond politics altogether.

In our age what many term a complete nihilism is in the offing. What do we mean by this? The complete severance of economics from politics, the privatization of every aspect of the polis, the public sphere. There will be no privacy in a totally secured world. The Human Security Regimes will require a total Surveillance Society. We see the dromological world arising all around us. The defining characteristics of our society, and an increasing source of its hazards, are its relentless acceleration and compression of time (i.e., the so called accelerationism theoretic). The benefits claimed for networked learning environments – productive forms of accessibility, asynchronicity, flexible working, interactivity, instaneity, global reach, inclusivity and contemplative digital space, all appear challenged by dromological perspectives. These latter locate the rise of digital information technologies firmly within the neo-liberal ideology of globalisation, and see them caught inexorably within a logic of ‘fast time’. This has dysfunctional effects in relation to creative thinking, deliberation, discernment and other conceptual processes. It has dystopian political effects in terms of the erosion of democratic and cultural space and the discrediting of action. Our children have become a part of a new generation of so-called ‘digital natives’ – ‘the children of chaos’ and transition. They will begin the process of completing the nihilistic world and its destruction.

Paul Virilio speaking of these accelerating processes would say,

Today, almost all current technologies put the speed of light to work…we are not only talking about information at a distance but also operation at a distance, or, the possibility to act instantaneously, from afar…This means that history is now rushing headlong into the wall of time… the speed of light does not merely transform the world.  It becomes the world. (Virilio 1999)

Virilio argues that the dominance of speed has historically been the source of power in all societies, be this through horsemanship, naval power, railway transportation, flight or, now, the fastest technology of all, information technology, which operates, quite literally, at the speed of light.

‘Speed’ suggests Virilio (1999:15) ‘is power itself’.

Whether in ancient societies through the role of chivalry (the first Roman bankers were horsemen) or in maritime power through the conquest of seas, power is always the power to control a territory with messengers, modes of transportation and communication.  Independent of the economy of wealth, an approach to politics is impossible without an approach to the economy of speed…Global society is currently in a gestation period and cannot be understood without the speed of light or the automatic quotations of the stock markets in Wall Street, Tokyo, or London. (15)

Acceleration, in this view, is the hidden side of wealth and accumulation, or capitalisation: in the past the acceleration of maritime transportation, today, the acceleration of information.   As one commentator put it, digital natives ‘are used to receiving information really fast.  They like to parallel process and multi-task.  They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked.  They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards.  They prefer games to “serious” work.’ (Prensky 2001:1) 1

This sense of playfulness, of no longer taking life and work seriously is what Nietzsche hinted at in his attacks of the middle-class of his day and the serious gray beards of academia, etc. Victorian and Industrial and Post-Fordist society were all too serious about life, and produced death and war and hate. Things are turning chaotic, apocalyptic, fiery: at the speed of light, a world of random access, of data, of light-speed. Everything is digital and bound in codes, decodings, and re-codings. And, away from the watchful keepers of the gray beards is the anarchic children of chaos creating the encrypted bit-stacked layers of a new privacy, and public sphere that cannot be controlled.

And, yet, this will not come easy, it will take much innovation and creativity against the security systems that seek to lock down free minds.

Degrade first the arts if you’d mankind degrade,
Hire idiots to paint with cold light and hot shade.

– William Blake

It will take a great insurgence not of force and violence, but of creativity and artistic power to overcome the dark lords of our economic slavery on the planet today!

This is not the place to address the weak (passive) nihilists that run the world of Global Finance and its economic prison system today! Yet, it is their weakening hold on the accelerating power of those creative singularities which are arising out of our future across the planet that is unraveling the codes of these Oligarchic Sovereign Systems of Security and Surveillance Capitalism.

If I use poetic embellishments to describe this process, it is because the reduced philosophical credos of our day are under the dominion of the powers of repression and oppression. We must return to the figurative, rather than the literal reduced meanings to bridge the gap between singularities so that communication can once again become a bridge of light not darkness… thought is in excess of itself.


  1. Marc R. Prensky. From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning. Corwin; 1 edition (January 10, 2012)

Drone music is the sound of death…

Nightmare Music: Cryo Chamber

Drone music is the sound of death…  we assume that if we ever do experience apocalypse, it will be just as we are about to disappear.

—Joanna Demers,  Drone and Apocalypse

The Curators of Impossible Dreams will one day uncover the dead cities below the layers of ash and water, discover the traces of miraculous destinies that abruptly ended in the deserts of time. Vast installations and exhibits of the Apocalypticos Verum Grimorium will pervade the desolate dronescapes of alien music’s. A literature of the void, the stillborn silences of the radioactive nightlands distilled into pure layers of sound vibrating under the pulsation of death and entropy will rise from the graveworlds of forgotten desires. Voluptuous loops, templexities of unbidden travelers,  will bring to light the decayed antics of comic fatalists who lived in the ruins of time revoking only the truth of their own complicity in the coming event. Brokers of holocausts these timetravelers will speak not a word, give no forecasting of the nightmares to come, unleash no epidemics upon the masses of unsuspecting prey. Watchers of the coming apocalypse — these brave travelers from times beyond times, immanent only to the loops of their forbidden games, will record in minute detail the artistic passage of this dark implosion of futurity. Bound by algorithmic codes we cannot even envision the watchers will roam among us like guests at a fatal banquet, members of a gnostic sect — knowers who know and are known by the future power of this transitory affair, this spectacle of the void.

We who for so long sought the impossible, dreamed of the unknown — seekers of the rims and far horizons, the unmapped, the wildernesses of the void will find it at last in the very moment of our vanishing. Having struggled blindly for so many millennia, bound to the fatal attraction of leaders compulsions to roam farther and farther into the unknown we will succumb at last to the final desert of time itself. Reaching the emptiness of the last thought we will wake up from our long sleep and know that the end has arrived, an end foretold, foreknown; inscribed in the very markings of our memories, below the curvature of those ancient songlines of the neural valences of microcells of DNA, the genetic footmarks of primordial seas born in us with such remote and indescribable music of decay and corruption. The repeating chords of an old song that never had a meaning, keeps returning out of that silence where time intersects the cone of desire. Neither an arrow nor its reversal can stay the coming apocalypse of desire. Robert Burton and Isadore of Seville would inventory the apocalyptic moments, construct vast lists of the melancholic music of time, deliver its unique voices, resonances — the manic preludes to events that might never be or that have already happened.

Games of distraction, trivial pursuits, blinding gestures of inanity — politics, literature, philosophy, love, and economics: the banal pursuit of dysphoria, delusion, and delirium in the face of the coming death of the human. Etymologies of disaster, cross referencing databanks of the bittersweet goodbye of human kind; the broken world revealed in the momentary tracings of nightmare and strange fantasias. Disgust, ugliness, cynicism: the trifold sisters of the coming age — those who would show us the face of our face, the monstrous truth behind the mask; that there is nothing there, absolutely nothing. Here even laughter is nothing but an entry into nihil… Even the hopeless is beautiful in such a world of fragmentation and utter decay. Is that, too, illusion, delusion? There will be no writings after the fact, no exclamation points beyond the Zero hour of the fugue: apocalypse is neither an end nor a revelation; it is both end and an unveiling of that which is not but is already under erasure: the elimination of the very figure and ground of those uninterpretable signs or figuras that demarcate the lack that spawns all desire. And, yet, in what it purports to unveil desire the end holds promise of that violence and terror of the self, of the desperate attempts to escape the traps of all that is now and can be, the moment of thought and being without us. An absence of absence? Who will remain to think that thought of the end? Demers will ask: “How can we remain conceived of a past or a future from which we are utterly absent?“1

More importantly: What is the sound of the universe dying from the light?


  1. Demers, Joanna. Drone and Apocalypse: An Exhibit Catalog for the End of the World (p. 14). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition. https://joannademers.com/

The Darkening of Macon Tobin: Part One

The dark tower stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly across black sands.
Nothingness falls from nothingness into nothingness.
-Alhrazad, The Mad Prophet

Macon Tobin knew there were things that happen that no one can explain, events so improbable that no one can ever be sure they actually happened much less believe they were real rather than just the insane gestures seeping in from some nightmare kingdom of the mind. Years go by and you put such events behind you, hide them away in the dead spaces of the mind hoping to gawd they get lost forever. He’d tried that so many times he’d lost count, nothing gets lost forever just like nothing will ever be redeemed; least of all, Macon Tobin. He’d known that for as long as he’d been in this living hell. Even longer…

Most of his adult life had been spent trying to forget things that wouldn’t stay forgotten. He’d tried to lose himself in marriage, work, and – even, whiskey; and, when that hadn’t worked he’d taken another path, lonely nights shacking up with some broad he’d of never been seen with in the daylight hours, one-night stands that just made him feel more guilty and less and less a man not to speak of his cheating heart. Oblivion was what he sought, but even that was out of the question. All he ended with was drunk on his ass and a three-night black out, an angry wife that was about to leave him and innocent children who deserved than to see their old man go down in squalor and self-pity. But the pain kept those memories coming back time after time after time. If it hadn’t been for Mary Beth he’d of been six feet under sure for shootin’, and he knew it. Knew it like the black marks on his body, marks burned so pure and deep they were never going away. Not as long as he was alive, anyway. So he’d sobered up, taken on his old life again, put on the mask of adulthood even if he couldn’t truly live up to it. He felt dead inside, going through the motions with job and marriage. He knew something had to be done, time was running out… yet, the memories persisted, and so did the nightmares.

Memories so powerful that they’d rise up out of the night, returning so twisted and out of joint, so full of animosity and judgment he never truly knew if they weren’t more real than reality; or, just the overwrought fantasies of his retched night long lucubration’s in the nightmare world. He’d wake up at times in a cold sweat just like he was now, his T-shirt soaked, underwear bubbling like lava, and his brain droning in distortion-sopped rhythms as if encased in a lapsteel guitar zinging to some Black Metal cadence of devilish chords that terrorized even the darkest of angels.

Swarming all around him, movement, churning, scuttling in the sands, waves upon waves of skittering, clattering, scuttling feet across the floors of silent wind-swept sands: the droning, chittering, ocean of carapaces moving in waves across the black sands; their clattering, chittering mandibles, an ocean of carapaces rising and rising around him in the sands, the black sands; their chittering droning voices, ten thousand or ten million million bodies, machininc drones chomping, eating, shredding anything and everything in their path… The Tower, dark and solitary, rising above the mass of black sands, above the sea of fitful drones, these machinic denizens clashing in the night under a starless sky; this strange vessel of the night, the Tower teetering on the edge of time and the abyss; floating on an island world of darkness, decay, and death – all around him, the desolation of all things at the end of light at the rim of the known universe… memories of an unreal world… The sirens of the Tower calling to him, luring him in, singing to him… their delicate tendrils reaching out to him, embracing him, lifting him above the sea of scuttling carapaces…

Macon opened his eyes, sat up, rubbed the terror of the black sands from his face… He grabbed a pack of cigs off the nightstand, looked over at Mary Beth, saw she was snoring soundly, got up put on his dingy mud encrusted jeans, pulled on his crusty boots, and then traipsed out to the kitchen. He grabbed what was left of the beer out of the fridge, pulled the half empty bottle of bourbon off the shelf, snatched up a coffee cup: – emptied the wet cig at the bottom of it, washed it out, and headed out to the back porch. Bull was laying there at the open screen eyeing him. “C’mon, Bull let’s me and you take us a walk, boy.” Bull didn’t much look like he wanted to go for no walk. He even closed his eyes as if to say: “Can’t be bothered, Macon – you’re goin’ have to figure this out all by your lonesome ole self, buddy.”

Macon laughed at the thought, kicked the screen door open and stepped over his old hound dog into the night where he could be alone with his thoughts and the stars.

#

He walked down to the Tree House he’d built for the kids a few summers back on a big Oak tree hanging over the river. It was still pretty sturdy, had a good rope and stairway going up, and a couple tires hanging down at odd angles so the kids could swing out over the river and take turns plunging down into those muddy waters.

He climbed up into the little alcove he’d constructed extra jutting out on the river side of the Oak for himself an Mary Beth, so they could come out some nights and just sit there sipping whiskey and watching the stars and comets fly by. There were some good times, and some bad times; but, for the most part he’d been happy with her and the kids. They were probably the only thing keeping him from going insane.

He took a swig of bourbon, popped a can of beer, poured it and another shot into the coffee cup and washed both down like an afterburner; it felt smooth and cool going down into his churning belly, cooling it off and letting him feel the numbness coming on. But his brain-pan was another matter altogether. His mind felt empty, cleaned out, purified; as if someone had singed it, burned it up with a blow torch at white heat; scorched it to black cinders and scraped his skull of every last piece of information except those old memories that wouldn’t come clean. His skull was on fire, a pitched furnace frying his brain in an incinerator like it was pigs guts on a griddle. He imagined flames bursting through at any moment from his skull, trailing a fiery plume of white fire across the river like some dragon’s tail of destruction and apocalypse.

He slung that bourbon bottle up and bottomed it out. He didn’t even need a chaser now. He was all done with chasers.

#

He left a guitar out there for such occasions. Sometimes it’d sooth his passions, but tonight he played a few chords and realized nothing was goin’ assuage the pain, nothing. He watched the dark hollers of the stars stretching across the face of blackness, the Milky Way roaring across that firmament like a flow of silver dollars in a stream. Smoked a few more cigarettes (another nasty habit he’d taken up of late!), and even climbed down and swung out over the river on one of the tires and plunged into the winter waters hoping he’d just sink away into oblivion. All that did was wake his ass up good and force him to gulp for air and hightail it back to the house. “Another failed idea,” he thought to himself as he saw Mary Beth standing there on the porch holding the screen door open for him with a big old beach towel ready to go.

“Don’t say it,” He said as he went by grabbing the towel…

She just smiled. She knew better than to say anything to him when he was in one of his moods.

#

After his shower he wiped the steam from the mirror and almost cussed himself out. He peered at the creature in the mirror: feral, ragged, hungry…  He despised what he’d become over the past few months since the nightmares had begun to resurface. “Dam,” he thought, “no wonder people been giving me the eye of late.” His eyes were bloodshot and he had the lean haggard look of the insane. His hair was getting a few streaks of silver gray and white, and his mustache, which was usually wiry and full of life, looked more like a dead man’s daguerreotype snapped from the pine box just before burial. His skin tone which was usually rust toned from the long summer, and pockmarked by his hours in the wind and rain; looked peaked, emaciated and withdrawn: bony cheekbones and shadows under his eyes. It scared the shit out of him what he was becoming; it was like he was mutating or something… And, he didn’t like that “or something” at all… He’d have to do something about it. He couldn’t keep on keeping on with this sad sack situation. It was time to confront it head-on instead of pretending it would go away or get better. Enough was enough.

He finished shaving, put on a clean shirt and blue jeans, and decided to drop in on the kids. Matt was sleeping good. The boy made him proud. He saw a lot of Mary Beth in him, had her toughness and grit, her cussedness and ornery ways when it was needed; but she was also a good friend, someone he could talk to, too; or, at least speak his mind too without feeling he was going to be judged for it like his old man always judged him. He loved her. He loved the kids. He wanted to pick the boy up and give him a big hug, but thought better of it. Let him sleep, he’ll need it.

He stepped across the hall and looked in on Tammy. She was quite a sprite, mostly tom-boy and tough as a little boot; yet, he’d spent a lot of time trying to get her to be more prissy, or at least to like girlish things. Bought her nice outfits, and Doll Houses, all the typical things he’d seen his sister grow up with… There it was again, the pain… “Why want it just go away?” He said under his breath as if someone might care.

He closed the door to his daughter’s bedroom and went out to the kitchen.

Mary Beth was sipping on some coffee looking out the kitchen window when he came in. He saw she’d made him a load of biscuits and gravy, eggs and bacon; enough to feed an army. Plenty of butter and jam, too. She treated him better than she ought, but he knew it was her way and he loved her for it. He also tried to do his best by her, gave her space when she needed it; took the kids out at times when the moods struck her. They had a way of speaking to each other without ever saying a word. Something good about such a relationship. A certain trust…

Her long brown hair was knotted up in a curled tail exposing her neck and shoulders. She was wearing her nightgown and the robe he’d bought her last Christmas with all the flowers on it. Sunny. He like it. Yet, she didn’t look none too sunny tonight. She looked desperate, and as she turned back to him her eyes had that haunted look. Eyes that were sea-gray to violet were almost pitch blood tonight as if she’d been crying for hours. He felt bad about that. Knew it was his fault. All of it.

“I’m goin’ back, hon,” He said.

“I know,” She said matter-of-factly as if she’d been expecting it for a while. “I’ve been feeling it for a time, wondering when it’d come down to this day.”

He could see she was holding back some tears. He knew she didn’t like him to see her that way. He walked up behind her and gave her shoulders a rub, then squeezed her round the belly and kissed her on the neck.

She touched his hands, squeezing hard, saying: “I just wish it didn’t have to be today.”

“Me neither, love! Me neither…” Macon said, and meant it.

#

End Part One

Part Two being revised…


©2016 S.C. HickmanUnauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: Decided to do a complete re-write of this story. The second draft will be in 3 Parts, and I’ve pulled out as much as possible the abstract elements and replaced much of it with more character development and internal thought. Trying to convey the suspense and keep the interest going without letting the full details of the issue out of the bag in part one. Just gives a minimal outlay of the atmosphere without any details. More of an ominous: What’s going on? At this point in the story… that sense of the Southern Gothic that something heavy out of the past is weighing on Macon’s soul, something he cannot forget and must now face or lose himself, his family, his life…

Laughing Jack’s Night Out

All around the carnival town.
The clown chased the child.
The blood was shed, the soul bled and bled.
Pop Goes The Weasel.

-Laughing Jack

Amy felt the smooth worn fabric of her Grandmother’s old rocking chair. Grooves had been rubbed into the wood pushing its way out of the frayed cloth. She could still hear the voice of the old woman in her mind even now: “Amy, you gotta do what your ole mammy tells you now! Gotta be careful, there’s terrible things in the world out there, and there’s no one goin’ protect you but yourself. After I’m gone you’ll be all alone. So you be a good girl, get to college and learn something; don’t let those boys trap you in marriage like I was. No. You got brains. Use them.”

Amy could still feel the penetrating glance of the old woman’s eyes on her, those vibrant sea-gray eyes turning almost violet in the warm light of the afternoon sun. Yet, there was also something in those eyes that terrified her, too. Gave her the chillies thinking about it. She’d hear her granny at times talking to herself. Or, at least that’s what Amy thought she was doing; she could never be sure. Her granny gave her a stern look one time when she started to go up to the attic one day. Those beady ole eyes turned somber and ferocious when she told Amy to never ever go up there: “Amy there’s things in this world a young girl has no business poking her head into. Do you understand? I don’t ever want to catch you near that attic under no untold circumstances.” Amy understood, but she didn’t quite understand why… what was up there that made her granny get so upset.

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If we leave the light behind…

Shocked witless by your own catastrophe, unable to think or to act, caught in cold and heavy darkness, solitary as in moments of profound regret, you have reached the negative limit of life, its absolute temperature, where the last illusions about life freeze.

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

If we leave the light behind, will we ever find it again? At the edge of things, out beyond the last star, the void like an unfathomable abyss awaits us. In the midst of all that darkness is there intelligence? Is there something alive in the burning abyss of endless night? And, once we begin our journey into that darkness all sense of direction shall be lost. And if a voice arose in the dark place of emptiness, what then? If the namelessness called you out, would you answer? Darkness in darkness: Why so much light only to be engulfed in an eternity of darkness? What accident of time gave birth to the light? Isn’t it the temporary, the transient; this light in the void of worlds, stars, and galaxies? This endless turning and turning around the darkness? Are not the black holes that power the galaxies the very embodiment of that terror we all are? Are we mere fragments of the darkness, broken pieces of its eternal majesty? And isn’t this absence, this lack in the hollow of our mind — the truth of the darkness? Nothing and everything unbound in the infinity of darkness, the squandering of light the last refuge of pain? Are we — lovers of shadows, the secret keepers of darkness, creatures of nightmare and chaos: agents of the unknown and unknowable? Isn’t the secret gift of our kind, that we who are most aware are the least at home in the realms of light? Are we not the darkness in the light, members of that ancient realm, our powers from the deepest abysses revealed? Are we not the ones who have always and everywhere destroyed the light? Why did we who belong to the darkness seek the light? What dark inheritor gave us this need, this poverty of imagination and intellect that we were born into a world that is not our home; a world for which we are ill-fitted, and seek in our unbidden dreams an escape into immortal realms that never were nor could be? And, if we return to the abyss from whence we came, will it receive us? Are we not condemned to the light, condemned to this round, an eternal return of the Same? Is this not our fate — we who are lovers of darkness, condemned to the realms of light everlasting? Is this realm of pain and light not the punishment of those who could not accept their own impossibility? We who sought knowledge outside themselves rather than in that dark place? Are we not the very ones to be condemned to ignorance, to this eternal striving, this struggle, this war for the light, the mind, the intellect? Driven from the kingdoms of darkness we wander these halls of light like forlorn members of a suicide cult, unable to escape the magic realms of light we spend our days in distraction and delusion, deliriously we enter into our own illusive dreamscapes of the Unreal. Caught between need and ennui we oscillate like moths around the deadly flame of consciousness; neither alive nor dead, we are bound to this endless striving chaos of action. Maybe that is our legacy, to be remembered as the harbingers of eternal night who were condemned never to attain it…

We’ll we ever find the darkness again in all this light?  Maybe what we seek is the solace of darkness at the edge of light, the cold and impersonal solitude of the Void within the Void? Or, if the truth be told, what we seek most of all is an end to the light in darkness, an end to the eye that sees too much — to knowledge and thought, to this striving, never-resting, annihilating light we are. This bitter feud among the humans is like a difficult passage or birth — there are those among us who love the darkness more than the light, who seek out its ways among the dark cracks and crevices of the world. It is our destiny to manifest that impossible absence at the heart of darkness, to awaken it from its cold and lonely sleep in the Abyss. In every age there have been those few who kept the evil thought alive, brought it forth into the light, nurtured it, watched it grow, allowed it to take root in the minds of the gifted ones. Very few among us will admit to our estate in the darkness, seeking rather to hide our darkness in the light, cloth it with the light’s own glorious delusions. We who walk in the night, breath the frozen air of solitude, know the secret ways of this kingdom. Saints of the Impossible we exist in that region in-between — neither human nor nonhuman, but rather Chimeras of hybridity, monstrous beings who appear beautiful, desirous. Flame-eaters, dragons of energy, the hooded blade of our spirit strives with the light for the darkness. I am the death of light and the fiery abyss of darkness. Like those dark minions of the Qlipothic Tree, outriders of the hated ones, dreamers of apocalypse and madness —darkness glows in me.

 


©2016 S.C. HickmanUnauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Folds of Horror: Notes on Ligotti, Lovecraft, and Philosophy

Unimaginable-Surreal-Artworks

I began this set of notes to bring in a specific philosophical concept (“Fold”) that struck me as pertinent in my recent reading of Thomas Ligotti’s book The Conspiracy against the Human Race. Thomas Ligotti in a side note speaking of Lovecraft’s model of the supernatural horror tale, which he portrayed in its archetypal form in the short story, “The Music of Erich Zann”, commented:

In composing the … work, Lovecraft came up with a model supernatural horror tale, one in which a subjective mind and an objective monstrosity shade into each other, the one projecting itself outward and the other reflecting back so that together they form the perfect couple dancing to the uncanny music of being.1 [italics mine]

When I read this passage I was struck by it’s uncanny resemblance to two notions of import I’ve read in the past few years. One referencing Deleuze’s notions surrounding the concept of the “Fold” in his work on Leibniz and the Baroque; and, the other concerning the notions of how objects relate to one another in Graham Harman’s Weird Realism. If in the passage above by Ligotti we replace “shade into each other” with “fold into each other” we begin to connect both Deleuze’s notion of fold with Harman’s notion of the objects relating through a third object of which they form and fold into one another. I’ll address a couple quotes from Harman, then move on to Deleuze’s work. Admittedly for Harman it’s about ontology in the real as it folds things into itself or is folded into the other; and, for Deleuze the fold is about the sensual epistemic and pervasive folds as the eye follows the surfaces through their becomings.

Graham Harman in Guerrilla Metaphysics tells us that the theory of objects “exists not just at some ultimate pampered layer, but all the way up and down the ladder of the cosmos, so that all realities gain the dignity of objects”. He continues, saying,

Objects have surprises in store as well: lemon meringue, popsicles, Ajax Amsterdam, reggae bands, grains of sand. Each of these things remains a unitary substance beyond its impact on others—and obviously, none of them is an ultimate tiny particle of matter from which all else is built. They are not ultimate materials, but autonomous forms, forms somehow coiled up or folded in the crevices of the world and exerting their power on all that approaches them. This is my definition of substance, a term well worth salvaging: an object or substance is a real thing considered apart from any of its relations with other such things.2 Commenting on Merleau Ponty he’ll also mention that to “have a body is already to be folded into the things rather than to stand at a distance from them: “the thickness of the body . . . [is] the sole means I have to go unto the heart of the things, by making myself a world and by making them flesh.” (GM, 53) [my italics]

I’ll leave this here and move on to Deleuze’s work.

From the Translator’s forward to Gilles Deleuze’s Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque we learn:

Focillon notes that the Romanesque and Gothic, two dominant and contrastive styles, often inflect each other. They crisscross and sometimes fold vastly different sensibilities into each other. The historian is obliged to investigate how the two worlds work through each other at different speeds and. in tum. how they chart various trajectories on the surface of the European continent. … The experience of the Baroque entails that of the fold. Leibniz is the first great philosopher and mathematician of the pleat, of curves and twisting surfaces. He rethinks the phenomenon of “point of view,” of perspective, of conic sections. and of things. folded are draperies. tresses. tesselated fabrics, ornate costumes: dermal surfaces of the body that unfold in the embryo and crease themselves at death; domestic architecture that bends upper and lower levels together while floating in the cosmos; novels narratives or develop infinite possibilities of serial form; harmonics that orchestrate vastly different rhythms and tempos; philosophies that resolve Cartesian distinctions of mind and body through physical means – without recourse to occasionalism or parallelismgrasped as foldings; styles and iconographies of painting that hide shapely figures in ruffles and billows of fabric. or that lead the eye to confuse different orders of space and surface.

 The key here strangely is not just the concept of the fold but rather the notion of causality as referenced in “without recourse to occasionalism and parallelism”. I’ll deal with this later. I still need to reread this work by Deleuze again and take notes…

Before I go any further I want to reference a post by Levi R. Bryant of Larval Subjects whose work of recent has taken him away from Object-Oriented philosophy and towards the notion of the “fold” as well. In a post in which he describes to his Barber the notion of the fold he has a discussion about bricks, saying,

Me:  A brick is a form of origami, like a crumpled piece of paper.

B:  Say what?

Me:  It folds the forces of the cosmos into it, invaginates them.  It folds the pressure of the other bricks about it into it, if it has lots of iron it folds the oxygen into it giving it that red color, it folds gravity and temperature in it, becoming brittle when it’s cold and molten when very hot.  Sound, light, pressures, air, all of these things are folded into it and it unfolds these things in the unique event that it is according to the structure that it has.  This conversation that we’re having, see those bricks over there on the wall?  The timber of the sound of our voices, the acoustics of this room, is an origami of our voices and those bricks.  Our voices have folded the bricks into themselves and unfolded it in a new vibration of sound.  Everything is a fold or folding, both individual and continuous with what it folds.

It might be better– I haven’t decided yet –to say that everything is a wave.  A wave is continuous with the water in which it occurs, yet distinct.  It both folds the currents of wind and water into itself and unfolds them in a rolling pattern across a plane.  It both arises from that plane but is distinct from it and changes it.  The dreams you told me about earlier are now a wave in me, folded into me, becoming something other yet remaining those dreams.

B:  [The scissors pause, stunned silence]  That’s so cool, man!  [He looks at his scissors and about the room]  It’s like everything is digesting everything else.  These walls have the past, music history [they’re covered with music posters], all these conversations and happenings folded into them.  That’s so cool, man.  Wow.

When the Barber said, it’s “like everything is digesting everything else” I almost croaked: this very notion that the universe is itself nothing but appetite, a great machinic feeding and ingesting machine, churning, grinding, folding, eating, regurgitating, etc. seemed more like one of Jonathan Swift’s satires; and, yet, much of the cosmic horror is of just that sense of a Darwinian blood and claw, predatorial universe of pure appetitive energy – and endless festival of death, the grotesque, and the macabre. Along with the notion or concept of fold one should bring in the sense of absorption, too.

In his work on Kabbalah, Absorbing Perfections, Moshe Idel in relating how texts and objects absorb each other we discover the absorbing quality of Shakespeare or of Joyce. Strong authors, like sacred texts, can be defined as those with the capacity to absorb us. To “absorb,” in American English, means several related processes: to take something in as through the pores, or to engross one’s full interest or attention, or to assimilate fully. Idel defines his use of “absorbing” as follows:

I use this term in order to convey the expanding comprehensiveness of the concept of the text of kabbalah or torah which, moving to the center of the Jewish society, also integrated attributes reminiscent of wider entities like the world or God. This expansion facilitated the attribution of more dynamic qualities to the text conceived of as capable of allowing various types of influences on processes taking place in the world, in God, and in the human psyche.3

In this he is conceiving his text as influencing what takes place in the world and in the human psyche (i.e., extrinsic and intrinsic relations), and even in God, if there is God. Shakespeare, like the Bible or Dante or the Zohar, absorbs us even as we absorb him, or them. Historicizing Hamlet or Lear breaks down very quickly: they themselves are the perfections that absorb us all.

This notion of being absorbed even as we absorb is a different twist on the old Gnostic notion or insight of knowing even as we are known which entails not a mental but appetitive act of intellect that both projects and introjects without dissolving the other, but rather as in digesting, mulching, thinking through and absorbing the sparks or vagrant fugitive thoughts – as substantive rather than immaterial – of the other, and making them part of one’s physical as well as mental being. One can imagine how this might play out in a supernatural horror scenario. One can as well think of the origins of life, cellular life of the membrane: the early introjection/projection of substance interactions that shaped the autonomy of a form necessary to both absorb and be absorbed; absorbing sustenance and nutrients, as well as expulsing them as byproducts to be absorbed by another substance. An endless mulching and scatological defecation is life at its raw minimal. One thinks of books like Nick Lane. The Vital Question: Why Is Life the Way It Is?; or, Johnjoe McFadden. Life on the Edge; or, David Toomey,  Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own… and many others.

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Such notions of absorption and folding make me think of a film from my childhood, The Blob, with Steve McQueen. The plot of this film depicts a growing corrosive alien amoeba that crashes from outer space in a meteorite and engulfs, absorbs, and folds in, and dissolves citizens in the small community of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. But before I get away with myself let’s hone back in on Levi’s post: the key here is when Levi says: “Everything is a fold or folding, both individual and continuous with what it folds.” That brings me by circuitous route back to Ligotti’s statement on Lovecraft’s model of supernatural horror as the shading or folding into each other producing this coupling of both in a dance of being; yet, not dissolving or fusing them together where their unique and unitary forms or substance is compromised beyond repair, but rather as a dark gnosis in which they both form a relation to each other that is itself a new (non?)knowledge of things and each other; or, a folding or absorbing or non-knowing even as folded, absorbed, non-known (i.e., think of Bataille’s System of Non-Knowledge rather than Laurelle’s concept), etc.. This sense of horror as the overcoming of fear through ecstatic enmeshing and folding between the known (subject) and the unknown (object); or, even object to object relations, is the central motif of Lovecraftian model of horror: or, as I want to term it after Eugene Thacker, model of abstract horror – a horror of ideas/concepts beyond the emotive drag of terror and fear; or, rather the end point or telos of which fear is the active defense measure of the body’s protective systems, and the abstract as thought’s resistance to the force or drag of the body’s own counter-measures – a way of overcoming the basic reactions of flight or death.

I’ll stop for now… I need to begin a new research project to trace this down, dig deeper into the notion of the fold, and develop this connection or disconnection between the various philosophies and notions of how it applies to the model of horror – or, even to philosophy as horror (Thacker/Land).

Things to research:

  1. The theme of fold itself across various philosophers, histories, usage, domains, etc.
  2. Absorption and its history and uses in various critical and scientific forms, etc.
  3. The notions of causality: fold vs. occasionalism/parallelism
  4. Further research on the model of horror (reread Lovecraft’s works and his book length Supernatural Horror), and Ligotti’s texts, Deleuze’s The Fold, and works of other philosophers…

  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 210). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (p. 19). Open Court. Kindle Edition.
  3. Professor Moshe Idel. Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (pp. xiii-xiv). Yale University Press (June 10, 2002)

 

 

 

 

The Dark Gnosis of our Malignant Uselessness

I’ve often wondered if there is a dark gnosis (and, there might be!), a gnosis that disavowed the a-cosmic generalities of the ancient Gnostics, or the apophatic disquietism of the desert monks; that was closer to the erotic and sadeian art of immersion in the sacral and scabrous art of murder and mayhem; a forbidden knowledge – or should we say, non-knowledge (Bataillean rather than Laruelleian) of the seeping malignancy at the core of things and the Universe: the blind and insipid processes that creeps into every aspect of time and space – there being no extreme elsewhere, no beyond, no transcendent realm outside these gyrating processes; and, to know and be known by this insanity of things: the violent and ecstatic terror of its catastrophic unknowing systems of endless churning and scatological inebriation; this thermospasmic mindlessness of nothing and emptiness: this, and this alone would be the intimate corruption my being has sought against all that is sunny and optimistic, and kept me tied to the world of life and all those secret sharers of this “malignant uselessness” (Ligotti).

In the The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror Thomas Ligotti remarks:

Phenomenally speaking, the supernatural may be regarded as the metaphysical counterpart of insanity, a transcendental correlative of a mind that has been driven mad. This mind does not keep a chronicle of “man’s inhumanity to man” but instead tracks a dysphoria symptomatic of our life as transients in a creation that is natural for all else that lives, but for us is anything but. The most uncanny of creaturely traits, the sense of the supernatural, the impression of a fatal estrangement from the visible, is dependent on our consciousness, which merges the outward and the inward into a universal comedy without laughter. We are only chance visitants to this jungle of blind mutations. The natural world existed when we did not, and it will continue to exist long after we are gone. The supernatural crept into life only when the door of consciousness was opened in our heads. The moment we stepped through that door, we walked out on nature. Say what we will about it and deny it till we die— we are blighted by our knowing what is too much to know and too secret to tell one another if we are to stride along our streets, work at our jobs, and sleep in our beds. It is the knowledge of a race of beings that is only passing through this shoddy cosmos.1


  1.  Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 211-212). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.

 

Discovering Crypt(o)spasm – Gary J. Shipley: The Madness of Abstract Horror

Discovering Crypt(o)spasm: The Madness of Abstract Horror; or, A Pessimist’s Labyrinth of Laughter

I am reading the book I am always reading: Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet.

-Gary J. Shipley, Interview with David F. Hoenigman

As I’m reading through Gary J. Shipley’s Crypt(0)spasm which recently was rereleased I began seeking some trace of its madness, a penchant of its epileptic thrust into a cataleptic disgruntlement, a mere morsel of sense from the dark diver’s corporeal agon – something, anything, that might bring me a dribble, here or there, out of the millions and millions of bits of data crunched by the googlemeister machines and threaded display tags of monstrous inveiglements, that could assuredly spawn and generate some semblance or preparation, some tribute or defamation of this grand and impossible nightmare of a work. To my dismay the work of Mr. Shipley – one of those that Thomas Ligotti – that corrupter of the young and old alike, would deem a Connoisseur of the Pessimist’s Dark Art is barely visible in the cultural limelight, much less entrenched in the daft anarchy of trivia and inane knots of intellectual fare one typically discovers on the net; rather he seems to have gone down into the declivities where fellow agonists of the corruption follow the trail into madness and despair,  the lair and shadowed circle of compeers who seek not the famed exigencies of the tribe of light, but rather of the impossible excess of that abyss from which nothing will ever – and, I say, ever return. But does this dismay Mr. Shipley? Doubtlessly, not. Like many of us he is knowing of his (non)place in the social lights – a mere surface tension of disreputable intelligence, rather than a site of gaming wit and intellect as one will find in his extravagant divagations and crepuscular nocturnes. It’s as if the liberal press in some great consort of suspicion has gone to great lengths to filter and silence such works as Shipley and other pessimistically inclined purveyors of our dark estate, who generate with such equanimity and calculated risk the artifacts of disillusionment and the grotesquerie of twisted enlightenment, publish for the select few. And, yet, it is in such texts as these that those who seek a worthy guide into the intricacies of the unbinding from illusions, those very wary readers who slip nightly into the interminable zones of abject horror: – abstract layers where the analytical and continental mind thrive in the interstices of a forlorn universe of multiplicity, would find in the thermospasms of conjectured confabulation the unbinding circuits of madness and death that generates the energetic creativity that is our catastrophic universe and the glory of our literature of terrors and awakenings to the insane truth.

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Gary J. Shipley: Quote of the Day!

 ©Chris Mars: Paintings

I come to Proust on bended knee: “It seems that the taste for books grows with intelligence […] So, the great writers, during those hours when they are not in direct communication with their thought, delight in the society of books.” And as, with a shaky bowel, I anticipate looking out from this scoffing nowhere of broken spines and laden shelves, feel free to browse the clutter of words I have collected, words from which I formed the tools of death.

The Tick-Tock Man: A Weird Tale

“Only a cynic can create horror — for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving demonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.”

-Letter from H.P. Lovecraft to Edwin Baird

Maybe I should’ve realized then that my life was going nowhere fast, but as in everything I did I tried to hide that fact from myself. I’d get up, shower, shave, put on a decent gray suit and black tie – the usual invisibility shell I’d been using for years. I’d enter work and smile my masked smile, joke with the guy in the cubicle next to me – Frank was him name, I believe? – for a few minutes; and, then I’d go into my own cube as if it were a monastic cell and shut the rest of the world out of my mind for the rest of the day.

I’m not sure when I noticed things were beginning to change. It wasn’t like I could see a physical difference in the objects around me. I didn’t. It was more a feeling – a vague one, at that. It’s like those strange moments when you catch a glimmer of something out of the corner of your eye, but it is moving so fast that by the time you turn to see what it is – it’s gone, poof. Then you have to ask whether it was just your overactive imagination; believe me, you don’t want to go there, but we’ve all been there – haven’t we?

Then there was the clock on my desk. After all these years – I noticed it. Not that I hadn’t noticed it before. No. I looked at it all time, looked at the one on my computer, looked at the one up on the office wall above Judy’s cube. Time was a preoccupation with me. No. This was different – it wasn’t so much about looking as hearing. Suddenly I kept hearing the tick-tock of the clock over and over and over again to the point I had to stop it or else. I picked it up and slammed it down as hard as I could on the desk. It seemed to stop, or at least it wasn’t as noisy. Then I thought to myself: “What am I doing, this is sheer lunacy?” So I picked the clock up examined it carefully to see if the crystal was cracked or the facing scratched, wound it back up and locked it away in my drawer and left it there.

I remember going to the lavatory for a few minutes. I wasn’t gone that long at all. When I returned there it was – the clock. Sitting there on the desk as if I’d never put it away. A friend had given it to me years ago as a gift. She said it was a rare item. A one of a kind. She’d found it in one of her travels to some country of the Far East. She didn’t remember where. Said it came with a curse; or, at least that is what the shop owner had told her. They’d both laughed at such antics. He told her the clock once belonged to a Princess of ancient China. That a famous toy and clock maker had made it especially for her, and that it was built to keep her alive as long as she took care of it – and, didn’t anger it. It was said that the Princess kept the clock safe for years and years, that she’d put it in an alcove just above her bed where it kept time to the Dragon never yielding to its flames. That is until she fell in love with a young Prince.

The Prince had moved her to his palace and she’d brought her dowry and her clock with her. Everything had gone on fine for many cycles of the turning wheel of time, but then a day came when the Princess had accidentally discovered her lover, the Prince, in the arms of another woman. She’d been so enraged she’d come back to her quarters and begun shredding everything, her clothing, her art, her furniture, her bed, until she came to the object she valued most in her life: the clock. She knew of the curse, and she knew she wanted to get back at the Prince. She picked up the device and without thinking she threw it from the balcony of her room onto the rocks and sea far below.

From that day forward the Princess became ill and a few days and weeks later, even after the Prince had called in the best and brightest doctors, sorcerers, witches, and ancient necromantic seers: she died of unknown causes in an excruciating form – she turned to jade, to stone. The Prince so distraught over the death of his beautiful lover felt there was some ancient curse upon his House. He summoned all his soothsayers and wise men to discover the problem; and they told him of the old toymaker’s clock, and of this man who had loved the young Princess from afar, but due to his age and station in life could only offer the one thing he had to give – the promise of immortality. The clock held the ancient powers of chaos and creation within its mechanical works, a magickal device of cunning and sorcery that bestowed the semblance of life for a price; that price being the dark and terrible secret of death itself which would extol a malignancy upon those who betrayed its confidence. For those who betrayed the device it meant becoming a living death in stone; an immortal statue of jade within which one would be aware for all eternity.

The Prince had the old toymaker and all of his clocks summoned before him. The old man was forced to share the story of his corruption and of the device. The Prince entreated him to break the spell upon the Princess, to release her from her living abomination. But, sadly, the toymaker said this was beyond his power; that the daemon of the clock held the power, and that only it could release her. The Prince angered beyond his young years had without warning slid his katana out and swiftly sliced the head off of the toymaker. He’d wrapped the clock up – which had reappeared after his lover’s mutation in her jade hands – and wrapped it in the old man’s shawl and floated both down the Yellow Yangtze River. That was the last anyone had heard of the clock and its tale till the shop keeper’s great uncle who’d been a traveling merchant had found it and the slain toymaker in the river. The clock seemed such a wonderful object that the old merchant had scooped it from the dead man and hidden it among his things. The merchant had a dream that night and the old toymaker had come to him and told him the tale of the clock and of its curse, that anyone who angered it would surely die as it would die at the appointed hour of the tiger: absolute zero. There and only there did time stop, and freeze into nothing; to remain there throughout all eternity along with its victim alone with the daemon of the clock.

The shop owner Pooh-poohed such old wives tales, said it was just one of those tales to tell your children on a late night when the moon was dark, and the owls and mice in the rafters were hooting and pattering. And, yet, she’d felt a little uneasy about it later, even made sure she wrapped the clock up safely and stowed it away in her traveling chest nice and tight. By the time she’d arrived back home after her journey she’d forgotten all about it. Until she’d given it to me, along with the unnerving tale of Princesses and demons and owls and mice and dark moons and curses.

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The Suicide Machine

The Universe is nothing else than a suicide machine created by a blind and fugitive monstrosity, whose veritable death throes generated the body of this universal catastrophe we now live in as fragments or shards of its dying embers, ash of its black light.

-©2016 S.C. Hickman, The Infernal Journals of Thaddeus Long

Thomas Ligotti will offer a surmise onto the strange necrotheology of the German philosopher Philipp Mainländer (born Phillip Batz), echoing a strain of Gnostic or Buddhist thought underpinning much of 19th Century Philosophy, saying: “Perhaps the Blind God was an unreliable narrator of weird tales. He did not want to leave a bad impression by telling us He had absented Himself from the ceremonies of death before they had begun. Alone and immortal, nothing needed Him. Yet, He needed to bust out into a universe to complete His project of self-extinction, passing on His horror piecemeal, so to say, to His creation.”1 He’ll comment on this amalgam of Catholic, Gnostic, and Pessimist speculation of Mainländer’s – remarking,

No one has yet conceived an authoritative reason for why the human race should continue or discontinue its being, although some believe they have. Mainländer was sure he had an answer to what he judged to be the worthlessness and pain of existence, and none may peremptorily belie it. (CHR,

The inability to posit an optimistic or a pessimistic reason for the continuation of the human species has left humanity in a quandary, oscillating between two poles like dark divers from some infernal picture show; members of a cult of death that keep on keeping on, only because of the ennui and the lack of vital thought or action necessary to decide one way or the other. So instead we have ritualized our world around certain age-old fetishes that our desires can grasp onto to maintain the status quo – if nothing else. As Ligotti delightfully relates: “Ontologically, Mainländer’s thought is delirious; metaphorically, it explains a good deal about human experience; practically, it may in time prove to be consistent with the idea of creation as a structure of creaking bones being eaten from within by a pestilent marrow.” (CHR, 38)


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

 

The Labyrinth of Night

I imagined a labyrinth of labyrinths, a maze of mazes, a twisting, turning, ever-widening labyrinth that contained both past and future and somehow implied the stars.

-Jorge Luis Borges

No one knows when they built the Labyrinth of Night. Some say it has always been here, but that no one knew of its existence because the time was not right; people were not ready to receive its mysteries, its secrets. Others say that the labyrinth is always and everywhere and only for the few – a small elite, those tormented souls who seek eternal solace in the dark and lonely nights of oblivion; that seek the secretive ways of the abyss that are neither a part of time nor a part of space, but rather of that unique and specific territory of powers of an integral obscurity and rotten sentience. These wanderers of a forlorn thought, miscreants of perversity, would rather follow the patterns of this dark desire than meet the physical needs of its tenants; knowers of the labyrinth, caterers of those delicate strains of the hidden art of pain: tempters,  alluring a design, a mystery out of the insane mysteries: a lost art of despair, debauches of cruelty and insanity; transgressors, excessive militants and renegades of the abyss: all, each and every one, – locked away, solitary, in some far creation bounded only by an infinite void, the void; a last and merciless confrontation, an agon with the blacknesses, willing accomplices to the unraveling of all things: the unweaving of  stars and worlds and darkness itself; creatures of absolute nihil unbound. I do not know the truth of it, all I know is that I’ve been here for a very long time.

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Thomas Ligotti: Dark Phenomenology and Abstract Horror

Of course, mystery actually requires a measure of the concrete if it is to be perceived at all; otherwise it is only a void, the void. The thinnest mixture of this mortar, I suppose, is contained in that most basic source of mystery—darkness.

-Thomas Ligotti

Dark Phenonmenology and the Daemonic

Thomas Ligotti in his essay The Dark Beauty Of Unheard-of Horrors (DB) will tell us that “beneath the surface utterances of setting, incident, and character, there is another voice that may speak of something more than the bare elements of narrative”.1  He’ll emphasize as well the notion that “emotion, not mind, is the faculty for hearing the secret voice of the story and apprehending its meaning. Without emotion, neither story nor anything else can convey meaning as such, only data”.  Stephen Zweig in his study of daemonism in the arts once told us that great art cannot exist without inspiration, and inspiration derives from an unknown, from a region outside the domain of the waking consciousness. For me, the true counterpart of the spasmodically exalted writer, divinely presumptuous, carried out of himself by the exuberance of uncontrolled forces, is the writer who can master these forces, the writer whose mundane will is powerful enough to tame and to guide the daemonic element that has been instilled into his being. To guide as well as to tame, for daemonic power, magnificent though it be and the source of creative artistry, is fundamentally aimless, striving only to re-enter the chaos out of which it sprang.2

Isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation are among the wiles we use to keep ourselves from dispelling every illusion that keeps us up and running. Without this cognitive double-dealing, we would be exposed for what we are. It would be like looking into a mirror and for a moment seeing the skull inside our skin looking back at us with its sardonic smile. And beneath the skull— only blackness, nothing.

-Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror

Ligotti makes a point that horror must stay ill-defined, that the monstrous must menace us from a distance, from the unknown; a non-knowledge, rather than a knowledge of the natural; it is the unnatural and invisible that affects us not something we can reduce to some sociological, psychological, or political formation or representation, which only kills the mystery – taming it and pigeonholing it into some cultural gatekeeper’s caged obituary. As Ligotti says “This is how it is when a mysterious force is embodied in a human body, or in any form that is too well fixed. And a mystery explained is one robbed of its power of emotion, dwindling into a parcel of information, a tissue of rules and statistics without meaning in themselves.” (DB) The domesticated beast is no horror at all.

In the attic of the mind a lunatic family resides, a carnival world of aberrant thoughts and feelings – that, if we did not lock away in a conspiracy of silence would freeze us in such terror and fright that we would become immobilized unable to think, feel, or live accept as zombies, mindlessly. So we isolate these demented creatures, keep them at bay. Then we anchor ourselves in artifice, accept substitutes, religious mythologies, secular philosophies, and anything else that will help us keep the monsters at bay. As Ligotti will say, we need our illusions – our metaphysical anchors and dreamscapes “that inebriate us with a sense of being official, authentic, and safe in our beds” (CHR, 31). Yet, when even these metaphysical ploys want stem the tide of those heinous monsters from within we seek out distraction, entertainment: TV, sports, bars, dancing, friends, fishing, scuba diving, boating, car racing, horse riding… almost anything that will keep our mind empty of its dark secret, that will allow it to escape the burden of emotion – of fear, if even for a night or an afternoon of sheer mindless bliss. And, last, but not least, we seek out culture, sublimation – art, theatre, festivals, carnivals, painting, writing, books… we seek to let it all out, let it enter into that sphere of the tragic or comic, that realm where we can exorcize it, display it, pin it to the wall for all to see our fears and terrors on display not as they are but as we lift them up into art, shape them to our nightmare visions or dreamscapes of desire. As Ligotti tells it, we read literature or watch a painting, go to a theatre, etc.:

In so many words, these thinkers and artistic types confect products that provide an escape from our suffering by a bogus simulation of it— a tragic drama or philosophical woolgathering… to showcase how a literary or philosophical composition cannot perturb its creator or anyone else with the severity of true-to-life horrors but only provide a pale representation of these horrors, just as a King Lear’s weeping for his dead daughter Cordelia cannot rend its audience with the throes of the real thing. (CHR, 32)

So we seek to cover it over, isolate it, anchor ourselves in some fantastic illusion of belief, and distract ourselves with Big Brother episodes or Kardashian hijinks, else read or watch tragic portrayals of the horror as a way to purge the effects of these dark emotions that we just cannot cope with. All to no avail. For in the end they will not stay locked up in the attic, but begin to haunt us, begin to find ways to make their presence known, to escape their dark dungeons and enter our lives in surprising and unexpected ways till in the end we discover we are overwhelmed by their dark necessity. Even Ligotti admits that after all his own short narratives, his art, his horrors are little more than escapes from the ennui – merely providing an “escape from our suffering by a bogus simulation of it”. (CHR, 32)

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