Nicole Cushing: A Sick Gray Laugh

When I started writing this book, I vowed to keep my madness out of it.

—Nicole Cushing,  A Sick Gray Laugh

CaptureNicole Cushing is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of Mr. Suicide and a two-time nominee for the Shirley Jackson Award.

Various reviewers have described her work as “brutal”, “cerebral”, “transgressive”, “taboo”, “groundbreaking” and “mind-bending”.

Rue Morgue magazine recently included Nicole in its list of 13 Wicked Women to Watch, praising her as an “an intense and uncompromising literary voice”. She has also garnered praise from Jack Ketchum, Thomas Ligotti, and Poppy Z. Brite (aka, Billy Martin).

Her second novel, A Sick Gray Laugh, has been released August 27, 2019 by Word Horde. A stand-alone novella, The Half-Freaks (published by Grimscribe Press) will also appear in 2019.

I just started reading Nicole’s latest work and am delighted to say it is well worth the praise it’s garnering so far… I’ll update with a review later this week, but for now you should check out her blog Litggressive for more information about Nicole Cushing and her fabulous work.

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Matthew M. Bartlett: The Stay-Awake Men – A Review

I feel like that skeptical American journalist, Jack Walser, backstage at the Alhambra Music Hall in Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus as I begin contemplating just what is going on. Reading the works of Matthew M. Bartlett is like entering a bloody chamber full of Dr. Hoffman’s desiring machines wondering if I’ll survive the night. I haven’t fallen into such a grotesquerie of myth, legend, and horror in years. It’s as if Lucien, Petronius, and Rabelais had wandered into 21st Century and unloaded all their Menippean charms and sigils of laughter and horror into the cracked brain of a New England cat lover.  As I read Gateways to Abomination and Creepy Waves all I could hear blaring out of my radio was the macabre ramblings of the Leech on steroids. It’s as if Matthew had unleashed a curse upon my poor music box as it screeched, hollered, fornicated, spouted strange fragments of some disjointed and incongruous tales of the back woods of those northern climes where Matthew’s agglomeration of misfits live in a world all their own. And, if that wasn’t enough I had to download his latest effort The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities into my poor innocent (or, not so innocent?) brain. Dang! Why’d I do that for? Well let me tell you…

Let’s begin our journey with the Carnomancer, or the meat manager’s prerogative…

Right off the bat I meet some lumpy old fart of a front store manager named LaFogg dreamin’ about young flesh and his dead wife, KaraLee. An ugly s.o.b. in “his fifties, a mere half-inch taller than very short, with a protruding belly and a bald spot that stayed resolutely pink no matter the season: not exactly the kind of man the cashier would ever look at with anything other than indifference…”.1 A typical over-the-hill loser if you ask me, but who’s asking? As this guy is day-dreaming about a young lass who wouldn’t ever give him the time of day, much less a smile, we’re thrown into a maelstrom of darkness when the meat manager goes berserk in the back of the store. What LaFogg finds when he arrives at the scene of commotion is one crazed creature (the meat manager):

With both hands he was lustily prying the cellophane from a huge hunk of bottom-round roast. Scattered across the tan and white tiled floor were torn shards of Styrofoam, sheets of pink-stained padding, and bunched remnants of cellophane, bubbled pink with blood. (SAOUE)

Needless to say the cops soon hall him out, but not before he let’s LaFogg and anyone who will listen, know, that he is looking for something: “It’s in here somewhere,” he said. “It has to be in here somewhere.” (SAOUE) We’re never told just what it is he’s missing, but we do know that it’s something that’s not going to portend anything good.

I’ll admit every story in this book is like that, you are suddenly thrown a curve, not knowing just what’s going to happen next, but you know if you stay around long enough it’s not going to turn out for the best. It never does.

SPETTRINI – This is my favorite tale, and from what I understand it was made into a chapbook before it showed up here in this line up of horror. The things Matthew does to language is a downright pleasure. His ability to bring a character to life, along with the atmospheric strangeness of the landscapes is just plain eerie. In this tale we discover an old Mesmerist and Magician losing his grip on the trade, a man who as a child saw a poster of the great Spettrini:

Greyson had become interested in magic not because of having seen a performance nor perused a book, but because of a poster. In a glass display adjacent to the door of the Civic Hall, dramatically lit from below, the illustration depicted a long-limbed Spettrini on a field of purple, a gothic iron fence with intertwined skulls and snakes in the foreground and tilting and split gravestones behind him. He was dressed like a vampire, in a tuxedo with a black and red cape, his fingers bent, frozen in mid-gesticulation, his nails black and long. Between his hands a bat hovered upside down in streams of psychic energy, drawn by the artist as one might sketch a range of hillocks. One thin eyebrow was arched and his hair, black as an oil slick on a moonless night, was combed back and plastered flat to his cranium. His mustache was waxed and stuck out from the sides of his face like pipe cleaners. The very words on the poster seized Greyson’s imagination. Enchantments. Levitation. Necromancy. Resurrection. Its purpose was to advertise Spettrini’s upcoming performance…

The young boy becomes a young man and enters into an apprenticeship of sorts with this famed magician, and the tale spins out the dark contours of his mentorship, and leads him to seek out the darkest secrets of his mentors world…

FOLLOWING YOU HOME – In this tale we meet a young man named Merrill, a loner and beleaguered conversationalist, invited to the yearly Halloween Office Party at a private home where he gets into a confrontation with a more intellectual co-worker and decides to escape the party as quickly as possible. On his way home he confronts something that should not be…

NO ABIDING PLACE ON EARTH – In this tale a Father and Daughter are confronted by entities unknown described as “some kind of strange owl, plucked bare. Pallid, knobby breast; flimsy, webbed wings dangling from twig-like arms, it flew only with a great deal of exertion. …  Their heads resembled those of elderly men, wispy white hair, wizened, slack mouths curtained with pink, blistered dewlaps. One turned its hooded, sagging eye in his direction. Then the others did the same. They coughed and wheezed and began flapping their sad wings as if to launch. It sounded like the smacking of slackened cheeks when someone rapidly shakes his head back and forth.”

KUKLALAR – A tale of corporate malfeasance, when middle-management is replaced by wooden puppets of a very special type; and what tasks they assign, and the strange twists and turns of their short happy lives turned nightmare …

“The figure was made entirely of painted and lacquered wood, down to the brown business suit, white Arrow shirt, and red necktie. Its hair was painted brown with thin grooves carved in to simulate texture, parted on the right. Its chin was on its chest. It landed on its feet, knees bending slightly, and the spotlight swooped down to frame the scene. The Kuklala crouched like a ballerina, knees apart, head down, one wooden hand splayed on the carpet.”

THE STAY-AWAKE MEN – In this tale an old DJ is offered a position of a lifetime if he will only follow instructions, come to an interview in a shady part of town, watch a movie, and discover just what it means to give the performance of his disk jockey life…

THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD – A sad tale of endings and beginnings, of fathers and daughters, of mutation, change, and apocalypses…

What one senses throughout these tales is not the macabre and grotesque details, nor the linguistic prowess of Matthew’s subtle and picaresque metaphors, hyperboles; and contradictions, incongruities, and deformations; rather it’s this all-pervading melancholy and sadness just under the surface of all that gritty glitz. Each of the main characters in these tales suffers a dark apprehension of reality in ways that not only break them but awaken in them a sense of that fatal accord that warps and corrupts us all. Underlying this collection is a sense of the utter futility of things; and, yet, it’s more than that: there is a sense that even in a dilapidated and ruinous universe of decay and entropy a person can discover in the underworld’s of a dark grotesquerie an enchantment and alluring magic; a secret power within things that both fascinates and repulses: an amazing portal into the unknown that surrounds us and permeates every cell in our body. To be lured in by these tales is to fall victim not to the malevolent heart of horror, but to experience the ecstatic madness we all crave but are want to acknowledge.


Visit Matthew M. Bartlett at his site: http://www.matthewmbartlett.com/
And, by all means, pick up his works: here!
Especially his latest work: The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities


  1. Bartlett, Matthew M.. The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (June 16, 2018) SAOUE

 

Michael Wehunt: A Review of Greener Pastures

There’s something sad and melancholy in these stories, a slow burn from the deep loam of rich Georgian earth, a cast of blue shadows from the Appalachian Blue Ridge’s hovering round the edges of the Northern childhood dreams of Michael Wehunt’s early night haunts. These are stories of loss and grief, of worlds situated in-between heaven and hell if one still believed in such things. There’s something old in Michael’s soul, something both peculiar and uncanny. It’s as if the deep black earth of his homelands were speaking through him, singing there way out of those dark guttural sounds of some ancient music. A sense of loneliness and gray shadows, twilights and imponderable winds in the pines. Silences and long open stretches of highways, spaces of regret and pity for an American that has slowly decayed into ruins. People who seem to haunt landscapes that sink into the hidden spaces around us, only opening up their dark tombs when the sun and moon orient themselves to the sad tunes of some solitary traveler whose inner sense of doom matches that of the darkest ponds and rivers. This is a world lost to time where one can hear the old world and new seeping into each other with strange tales of horror that grasp you like an old comforter full of feathers falling from an unknown dimension of heartache.

Whether it’s the bond of sisters in the depths of a dark cave, their blood marriage of minds shadowing the mutant madness of a town’s poverty and derangements, and their quest for the eternal blood of salvation and eternal life in a pool of death; or the honeyed laughter of first love, of a mother’s insect dreams, the rituals of old Europe springing up in the new world like the humming of bees in a summer’s cavalcade; or a lonely trucker caught in a realm just in-between nothing and nothing, listening to the dreams of an old man’s haunted life; else the music of angels or swans, low and distant, sifting a widower’s life between two loves – a desperate attempt to recapture the circle of youth in a strange metamorphic shift among untimely memories and feathers; or and old Jazz-man telling a story to a young girl facing down her dark thoughts, and he on about a blue devil of rhythms and blues and harmonies of greatness, leavings of last memories before leave-taking for parts unknown; and, then a haunted docudrama – four friends plundering the backwoods of New Hampshire, shooting paranoid footage of a haunted landscape of doom and ghosts and nightmares come alive;  else  a flight of women or angels falling into time and a puddle of trailers in a patchwork world of sin and mad preachers, seen through a young boy’s innocence: a world of bittersweet truths about a rag-tagged bunch of fools and liars and clowns;  and, more tales that sweep you down a world of pain and nostalgia, dark truth forged in twilight worlds and landscapes of visible hell that could be your own back yard or town…

Michael’s tales have that natural appeal of a deeply felt lived life of a man who sees into things. His tales have the seduction of folk lore and strange days, of the voice of story rising out of the black loam of a hidden America that is riddled with the lost souls,  misfits, eccentrics, and broken keepers of our darkening and decaying country of forgotten dreams and terrible secrets. And, yet, there is deep and abiding love and emotion in his utterance of our worst nightmares, a desperate quest for transformation and change, and an openness to the unknown wonders of a frail universe that does not frighten so much as seduce us to enter its dark harmonies. Then there’s the grief of the inconsolable that follows one’s days like a dead woman who will not go away but haunts one’s flesh like the “slow drip of living” in a world in which the “nights black and the days flat and you can hardly care”.

These are tales of fatalist acceptance and the inevitable dammed, awaiting neither judgment day nor some dark Jesus to carry them away into the cold black night haunts of the desperate void, but rather a singular country boy’s early and late dreams of that bleak cosmos where humans meet the mystery that awaits us all in the great indifference that is. And, yet, even in the blackest abysses of time and space there is something that keeps his characters going, something that makes them quest after some indefinable answer, a yearning for more life even in the midst of destruction and consumation; a need to continue in inexistence where the “harbinger with green grace, of yellow mouths opening somewhere now closer above…” resides this side of the tormented lands. A sense of those mysteries that surround us on all sides, the secret rendezvous with darkness and stars and the emptiness in-between, where in the silences of the empty sky full of black music of endless night something lures us onward and outward toward the inexplicable.


Author Bio:

Michael Wehunt grew up in North Georgia, close enough to the Appalachians to feel them but not quite easily see them. There were woods, and woodsmoke, and warmth. He did not make it far when he left, falling sixty miles south to the lost city of Atlanta, where there are fewer woods but still many trees. He lives with his partner and his dog and too many books, among which Robert Aickman fidgets next to Flannery O’Connor on his favorite bookshelf.

His fiction has appeared in various places, such as The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu. This is his first collection.


Visit Michael Wehunt as his site: https://michaelwehunt.com/
Buy Greener Pastures from links at Apex Publishers

The Boredom of War?

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

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

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

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John Langan’s Sefira first impressions…

John Langan’s Sefira first impressions…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

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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Thomas Ligotti: The Frolic and the Wyrd (Weird)

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…you get the horrors you deserve.
………  – Thomas Ligotti

“The accursed one may thus be understood as someone outside the law, or beyond it.”
………..– Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacre

Michael Arnzen in his post of (2008) on “The Frolic” by Thomas Ligotti mentioned a small film adaptation of this story that was part of a limited edition bundled with a DVD — a 24 minute adaptation of that story directed by Jacob Cooney. I never knew about this particular filmic adaptation. It seems (as a commenter suggests) it is on Vimeo: here. Either way the story itself was the first one I read in the original The Nightmare Factory, and its uncanny infiltration and contamination invaded my mind channeling that ancient power of cosmic strangeness we associate only with the weird tale.

In the carnal act, in desecration – and in desecrating himself – man crosses the limit of beings.
……..– Georges Bataille, The System of Nonknowledge

How many of us would admit to being accursed? I don’t mean living outside the law of man, or even if one did believe – outside the law of God; no: I mean the law of one’s own being, the law that keeps one safe and sound, the wild things at bay locked out in the dark hinterlands of the mind devoid of their terror and despair. What if one had been thrown not into the world – as Heidegger would have it, but rather into the void beyond one’s own inaccessible life, a life that continues sleepwalking through existence without you? What if that part of your being wandered beyond the hedge separating wilderness from civilization, sanity from insanity: beyond the civilizing sociality of your everyday self-subjectivation – that avatar mask you present to your wife or husband, or your children – who depend on the kindness of your gentle ways; as well, your boss, your friends, your social partners and after hours consorts; all these of which the self that meets the world, that masks its dark intent within the circle of sanity of this dog day world we all share? What if that self found its way back into the wilderness of beginnings, in the realm of myth and terror where the wild things live? What then?

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Thomas Ligotti: The Horror-Maker

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from Allan and Adelaide: An Arabesque (1981) by Thomas Ligotti

Straight toward heav’n my wondering eyes I turned
And gazed a while the ample sky, till raised
By quick instinctive motion up I sprung …
…………“Thou Sun,” said I, “fair light,
And thou enlightened Earth so fresh and gay,
Ye hills and dales, ye rivers, woods, and plains,
And ye that live and move, fair creatures, tell,
Tell, if ye saw, how came I thus, how here?
Not of my self; by some great Maker then,
In goodness and in power preeminent;
Tell me, how may I know him, how adore,
From whom I have that thus I move and live,
And feel that I am happier then I know.
………..– John Milton, Paradise Lost

Unlike Milton’s orthodox God of Creation who appears so full of goodness and wisdom, the Gnositcs – or, at least the Sethians – would envision the dark force of universal catastrophe as the Maker of Horrors rather than Paradises, a blind and terrible force at the heart of the cosmic degradation who is neither good nor evil but is the force of matter as active principle of unending existence. Ligotti’s Horror-Maker revitalizes this ancient mythos of a darker Gnosticism as an atheistic paradigm that removes both gods and angels and puts the blind forces of natural existence and the sciences at the heart of his allegory of cosmic catastrophism. Situated in that same cosmic abjectness as H.P. Lovecraft he explores a realm where the void harbors nothing more than the energetic powers of our own unconscious mind, a realm where the outer moves inside like a ravenous beast seeking a consuming ecstasy in excess of its own broken vessels.

In the ancient Gnostic mythos Samael is the third name of the demiurge, whose other names are Yaldabaoth and Saklas. In this context, Samael means “the blind god”, the theme of blindness running throughout gnostic works. His appearance is that of a lion-faced serpent. In On the Origin of the World in the Nag Hammadi library texts, he is also referred to as Ariael, the Archangel of Principalities. An allegory of Time and Matter, of the endless return of an active principle, an undying and unyielding immanence at the heart of things: the living power that enfolds us and delivers us to the nightmare of the universe.

Think of Shakespeare’s great play The Tempest where Ariel is a spry spirit or angelic creature that the evil witch Sycorax imprisoned in a tree because the “delicate” spirit didn’t have the heart to do her bidding. Prospero the Magus frees the spirit who then gifts him with unearthly wisdom and power; yet, under this guise we see a hint of the old blindness working its way out in a new form. Of course Shakespeare turns the myth to more comic and changeful pursuits. Prospero is tricked into changing his mind, a puppet handled by Ariel gracefully to do this spirit’s bidding under the guise of an autonomous act of the Mind, bringing with it a happy conclusion to love and romance. Yet, even here in Shakespeare a knowledge and gnosis of the old paths cross mind-wise in the allegory of comedy and romance.

Georges Bataille in his essay Base Materialism and Gnosticism would see in this ancient mythology a notion of matter as active principle: “It is possible to see as a leitmotif of Gnosticism the conception of matter as an active principle having its own eternal autonomous existence as darkness (which would not be simply the absence of light, but the monstrous archontes revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action).”

Jacque Lacan sometimes represents what he would term the Real as a state of active matter, as a time of fullness or completeness [what Gnostics would term the Pleroma] that is subsequently lost through the entrance into language. The primordial animal need for copulation similarly corresponds to this state of active matter. There is a need followed by a search for satisfaction. As far as humans are concerned, however, “the real is impossible,” as Lacan was fond of saying. It is impossible in so far as we cannot express it in language because the very entrance into language marks our irrevocable separation from the real. Still, the real continues to exert its influence throughout our adult lives since it is the rock against which all our fantasies and linguistic structures ultimately fail. The real for example continues to erupt whenever we are made to acknowledge the materiality of our existence, an acknowledgement that is usually perceived as traumatic (since it threatens our very “reality”), although it also drives Lacan’s sense of jouissance.

Yet, what if instead of being driven by “need” as in Lacan, we are driven not by a lack, but an overflowing immanent power, an ecstatic plenitude that needs to overflow the boundaries of all limits, otherwise become sick and destitute? Wasn’t this at the heart of Freud’s theory of drives? Lacan muted this and introduced need and lack into an otherwise Freudian universe of catastrophe and chaos. What if instead of a lack at the heart of being there is a fullness, a darker truth of an active principle of production that needs to flow, needs to escape the boundaries of reason and civilization? Wasn’t this at the core of Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of Lacan? What if our very laws that bind this ancient power within humanity is what has made us sick and nihilistic? What if we need to escape these old laws of morality and normativity, to explore our ancient heritage in the worlds of libertine ecstasy?  What if instead of Stoic reduction of pleasure and pain, we need to push pleasure and pain to the extreme limits of our human capacities, to overflow the barriers that keep us tied to outworn forms? What is what we seek is to transgress the limits of self-imposed exile, rejoin the universe of power and eros? Consume the riches of the universe in its glorious excess? As Nick Land would eloquently put it:

Excess or surplus precedes production, work, seriousness, exchange, and lack. The primordial task of life is not to produce or survive, but to consume the clogging floods of riches – of energy – pour down upon it.2

Jouissance has been noted  as a transgressive, excessive kind of pleasure linked to the division and splitting of the subject involved. One might see it as a form of commingling of eros and thanatos, a pleasurable pain or painful pleasure – an excess that brings the sensual and orgasmic delights to a limit that bursts beyond and into that voidic delight where annihilation and opposites endure beyond human endurance. Rather than the apathy and affectlessness of cold embittered logic and mental masturbation of priestly sadists we should listen to the great Sufi mystic Rumi who once said:

Pain renews old medicines and lops off the branch of every indifference. Pain is the alchemy that renovates—where is indifference when pain intervenes?1

Ariel Glucklich in her study of Sacred Pain will argue that religious pain produces states of consciousness, and cognitive-emotional changes, that affect the identity of the individual subject and her sense of belonging to a larger community or to a more fundamental state of being. More succinctly, pain strengthens the religious person’s bond with God and with other persons. Of course, since not all pain is voluntary or self-inflicted, one mystery of the religious life is how unwanted suffering can become transformed into sacred pain. (p. 6) But what of sexual ecstasy, what of the gnostic libertines who sought out the extremes of physical and mental jouissance, the pleasure-pain or joyful sorrow of ecstatic immanence: a darker gnosis than that of the later mystics of the Light? What of the powers of darkness and active matter, of the archons and their endless measure of immanent bliss and pain, the jouissance that brings about a horrible mercy and excessive delight in nightmares?

What of the atheist, the unbeliever, the wandering tribe of Cain? What of those who seek not God but the extremes of physical jouissance, the excess where pain and pleasure merge in a physical and mental event of exquisite power and breadth. What of the tradition from Baudelaire to now of the drug induced visionary gleam of those immanent realms of dream and nightmare, the offering of glimpses into a cosmic degradation and contamination of a dark gnosis. Where being “alone with the alone” is not some transcendence of the cosmic fun house, but rather a deeper involvement in its bleak voidic energy – an immanent degradation and awakening to our relation to our eternal life as twitching vibrant matter? (This is not a vitalism!)

There is no pantheistic god hiding in the darkness, no living allegory of the Gnostic Blind One. Instead this is the atheism of eternal return of which Nietzsche dreamed forward. Where things merge in the dark alcoves of matter, a matter that is no longer dead but active and excessive and transgressive. Where the cosmic anguish and spasms of dying galaxies, and the immeasurable drift of a trillion nightmare scenarios engender a writhing plenitude of pleasurable pain, a jouissance bringing forth such endless wonders and monstrosities that one seeks not some salvation by way of transcendence, but rather the slow and methodical merging with the immanence of power that is already flowing through every nook and cranny of one’s being and the universe? Metamorphic transformation in a spiraling movement of endless Time.

What if we ourselves are the blind gods set adrift in a universe of death where only the nightmares break through the barrier and gap of the Real, and with each step we take we enter another chapter in our already endless death-in-Life? An eternal return of the great round of eros and thanatos: the universe as catastrophe and pure jouissance. What if we ourselves are the very powers who squander our lives in trivial games of human degradation, while in truth our task is to set free the horror of the Real and let the games of love and death begin in transgression and ecstasy? Maybe as Ligotti affirms: “There is no refuge from the living void, the terror of the invisible.” We are the void, and the terror is of our own making, for we are the Horror-Makers of this charade, this catastrophic universe of pure death and jouissance, of erotic ecstasy in endless degradation and corruption. Sepulchral metamorphosis and transformation, the dark energy of an active principle in matter moving through all things invisibly – as in Blake: “Energy is eternal delight!”

Catastrophists of nightmares and wonders, monstrosities and cosmic degradation: the endless play of eros and thanatos in a realm of pure jouissance – matter at play with itself in eternal delight. Civilization and Language were invented to stave off this very truth, to build walls, gaps, and cracks in the cosmic movement; to bind it and keep it at bay. Yet, it will not go away. You cannot hide from what you are, neither can you exclude the terror of your own inner being. The mythologies of the Real are nothing more than one more mask for this dark energy that labors both within and without us doing what it has always done from the beginning of time; for indeed it is the labor of Time.

We are the very monsters we so fearfully project into our allegorical mythologies. We are the terrors and powers of this universal crime, who have forgotten our sad estate in the cosmic palace of horror. Like minions of a deadly deed we create fictions to hide from ourselves. We are slaves to impulses we once owned as our own. We are afraid to enter the stream of continuous degradation and be as we are, the heirs of a vast catastrophe that we ourselves made. For we are the Horror-Makers. The dark gnosis is to know that we are in the place of nightmares without knowing it. A place from which we have sought exit for so long through all our mythologies of salvation beyond despair, when all we needed to do was to enter the final stage of our metamorphosis and be transformed by the active principle at the core of this universal composition and decomposition. To know and be known by the blindness that is our degradation and our glory.

Do you understand me now?

The one eye of the Godhead is blind, the one ear of the Godhead is deaf, the order of its being is crossed by chaos. So be patient with the crippledness of the world and do not overvalue its consummate beauty.
……………– C. G. Jung,  The Red Book


  1. Glucklich, Ariel (2001-10-18). Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul (p. 4). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992).

Eugene Thacker: In the Dust of this Planet

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The essential element in the black art of obscurantism is not that it wants to darken individual understanding, but that it wants to blacken our picture of the world, and darken our idea of existence.
– Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Eugene Thacker would like us to believe that he is a philosopher rather than an obscurantist and harbinger of a new mysticism beyond the Death-of-God. His new work purports to be among other things a philosophical excursion into demontology; or, the study of the inhuman world-without-us, which denies the anthropological view of the world as not simply the world-for-us or the world-in-itself, but as the world-without-us.1 As he further explicates:

Likewise denying the view of metaphysics means considering the unreliability of the principle of sufficient reason for thinking about the world (not sufficient reason but a strange, uncanny, insufficiency of reason). A philosophical demonology would therefore have to be “against” the human being – both the “human” part as well as the “being” part.(ibid.)

A philosophical demonology? He couches his work in a series of Medieval philosophical approaches, tabulating the quæstio or “question” as forming an occasion for an inquiry or “questioning,” the goal of which would be to achieve some sort of synthesis or reconciliation of the discrepancies at the heart of philosophical inquiry.2

The work itself starts with the lofty aim of exploring the relationship between philosophy and horror, through this motif of the “unthinkable world.” (ibid. p. 1) Rather than a philosophy of horror we get its opposite ‘the horror of philosphy’:

…the isolation of those moments in which philosophy reveals its own limitations and constraints, moments in which thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility – the thought of the unthinkable that philosophy cannot pronounce but via a non-philosophical language. (ibid. p. 2)

Horror in this scenario becomes a form of philosophical thinking that deals not with human fear or any anthropomorphic conceptions of demons, but rather as questioning the “limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us)” (ibid. p. 8).

In the first part he measures the notion of demon against such popular culture strands as Black Metal music in its various guises. He starts by defining black as used by various bands as a figure or trope of Satanism, Paganism, and Cosmic Pessimism. He sublates the first two into the overarching concept of Cosmic Pessimism and utilizes Arthur Schopenhauer as the forefather of such a move and its explicator. He offers the notion that Satanism has the structure of opposition and inversion, and Paganism the structure of exclusion and alterity. Cosmic Pessimism which includes both forms offers in his words:

a strange mysticism of the world-without-us, a hermeticism of the abyss, a noumenal occultism. It is the difficult thought of the world as absolutely unhuman, and indifferent to the hopes, desires, and struggles of human individuals and groups. Its limit-thought is the idea of absolute nothingness, unconsciously represented in the many popular media images of nuclear war, natural disasters, global pandemics, and the cataclysmic effects of climate change. Certainly these are the images, or the specters, of Cosmic Pessimism, and different from the scientific, economic, and political realities and underlie them; but they are images deeply embedded in our psyche nonetheless. Beyond these specters there is the impossible thought of extinction, with not even a single human being to think the absence of all human beings, with no thought to think the negation of all thought.(ibid. p. 17)

In his quest to develop a new demontology he defines it against current anthropological notions, saying:

If anthropology is predicated on a division between the personal and the impersonal (“man” and cosmos), then a demontology collapses them into paradoxical pairings (impersonal affects, cosmic suffering). If ontology deals with the minimal relation being/non-being, then demontology would have to undertake the thought of nothingness (a negative definition), but a nothingness that is also not simply non-being (a privative definition). (p. 46)

So it is with the concept of ‘nothingness’ that this philosophical work underscores its main theme of demonological thought. Using Agrippa’s ‘Occult Philosophy’ as a forerunner he hopes to provide us with an occult philosophy of the the world that simply reveals its hiddenness to us (p. 54).

He provides several literary readings of such works as Marlowe’s The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus, Goethe’s Faust Part I, Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out, Blish’s Black Easter – or Faust Aleph-Null, Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and “The Borderlands”. Each of these stories dealing with the occult them of the ‘magic circle’ and its occult usage in which the “magic circle serves as a portal or gateway to the hiddenness of the world” (ibid. p. 73). In other stories such as those by H.P. Lovecraft there is a sense of the world devoid of the human, one in which the hidden world is no longer bound by a magic circle in which humans can control or govern the daimonic powers but is instead its dark inverse: a realm in which the “anonymous, unhuman intrusion of the hidden world into the apparent world, the enigmatic manifesting of the world-without-us into the world-for-us, the intrusion of the Planet into the World” stands revealed (ibid. p. 82).

Thacker will trace this theme through natural figures and tropes such as “mists”, “ooze”, “oil”, etc., and even through such writers of political theology as Carl Schmidt. Through it all the notion of the ‘hiddenness of the world’ juts up as “another name for the supernatural, exterior to its assimilation by either science or religion – that is, exterior to the world-for-us” (ibid. 96). He adds:

But these days we like to think that we are much too cynical, much too smart to buy into this – the supernatural no longer exists, is no longer possible…or at least not in the same way. In a sense, it is hard to escape the sense of living in a world that is not just a human world, but also a planet, a globe, a climate, an infosphere, an atmosphere, a weather pattern…a rift, a tectonic shift, a storm, a cataclysm. If the supernatural in a conventional sense is no longer possible, what remains after the “death of God” is an occulted, hidden world. Philosophically speaking, the enigma we face is how to confront this world, without immediately presuming that it is identical to the world-for-us (the world of science and religion), and without simply disparaging it as an irretrievable and inaccessible world-in-itself. (ibid. 97)

This leads Thacker to develop a path toward mysticism rather than philosophy. As he asks,  “…can there exist today a mysticism of the unhuman, one that has as its focus the climatological, meterological, and geological world-in-itself, and, moreover, one that does not resort to either religion or science?” (ibid. p. 134) His answer:

If mysticism historically speaking aims for a total union of the division between self and world, then mysticism today would have to devolve upon the radical disjunction and indifference of self and world. If historical mysticism still had as its aim the subject’s experience, and as its highest principle that of God, then mysticism today – after the death of God – would be about the impossibility of experience, it would be about that which in shadows withdraws from any possible experience, and yet still makes its presence felt, through the periodic upheavals of weather, land, and matter. If historical mysticism is, in the last instance, theological, then mysticism today, a mysticism of the unhuman, would have to be, in the last instance, climatological. It is a kind of mysticism that can only be expressed in the dust of this planet.(ibid. pp. 158-59)

Ultimately Thacker’s approach is an obscurantist mysticism – in the sense of the Latin obscurans, “darkening” from philosophy toward a hidden world of mystic insight and occult philosophy based on emptiness, negativity, and the unhuman.

1. Thacker, Eugene (2011-08-26). In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1 (pp. 45-46). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
2. (ibid. p. 10)

H.P. Lovecraft: Quote of the Day!

lovecraft

THE BEST HORROR-TALES OF TODAY, profiting by the long evolution of the type, possess a naturalness, convincingness, artistic smoothness, and skilful intensity of appeal quite beyond comparison with anything in the Gothic work of a century or more ago. Technique, craftsmanship, experience, and psychological knowledge have advanced tremendously with the passing years, so that much of the older work seems naïve and artificial; redeemed, when redeemed at all, only by a genius which conquers heavy limitations. The tone of jaunty and inflated romance, full of false motivation and investing every conceivable event with a counterfeit significance and carelessly inclusive glamour, is now confined to lighter and more whimsical phases of supernatural writing. Serious weird stories are either made realistically intense by close consistency and perfect fidelity to Nature except in the one supernatural direction which the author allows himself, or else cast altogether in the realm of phantasy, with atmosphere cunningly adapted to the visualization of a delicately exotic world of unreality beyond space and time, in which almost anything may happen if it but happen in true accord with certain types of imagination and illusion normal to the sensitive human brain. This, at least, is the dominant tendency; though of course many great contemporary writers slip occasionally into some of the flashy postures of immature romanticism, or into bits of the equally empty and absurd jargon of pseudo-scientific “occultism”, now at one of its periodic high tides.

It may be well to remark here that occult believers are probably less effective than materialists in delineating the spectral and the fantastic, since to them the phantom world is so commonplace a reality that they tend to refer to it with less awe, remoteness, and impressiveness than do those who see in it an absolute and stupendous violation of the natural order.

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain— a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation.

The one test of the really weird is simply this— whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim. And of course, the more completely and unifiedly a story conveys this atmosphere, the better it is as a work of art in the given medium.1

1. Lovecraft, H. P. (2013-07-03). The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature: Revised and Enlarged (Kindle Locations 1349-1361). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.