The Shadow Warrior

“He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.”
—Sayings of Zamirii – Book of the Seven Swords

Skulgrim lay among the corpses like a shadow. Thousands of dead and dying surrounded him in this black land. “The insanity of war,” he thought dimly. “A man might as well be a stone in the river, letting the currents of time pass over him day and night without thought or reason.”

Laying there in the mud and blood he looked more like a corpse himself, his thick black hair muddied and plastered with the dung and offal of his comrades. He tried to raise his head up, but could barely open his eyes much less navigate the sea of bodies above him. He couldn’t remember a time when he’d felt so weak, his body numb and almost as lifeless as the dead laying across his massive chest. “How many hours have I been unconscious?” he wondered. 

The squawks of corpse-birds and buzzing flies stirred above his half-buried body. He tried to lift his arm and hand to brush them away, but felt the energy drain from him into the dark loam of the blood-soaked earth. He knew he’d been there for a while trying to wriggle his fingers caked in human gore. Little did he know he’d sustained deep wounds in his upper thigh. Continue reading

Surfing the Liminal Horizon

Those thinkers in the Consciousness business have been at least ever since David Chalmers asked the simple (or difficult) question: “Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?” His point is that we can describe many of the things consciousness does, but we cannot answer what he terms the “hard problem” why the brain ever needed and created this evolutionary process to begin with. As I’m still reading High Weirdness by Erik Davis who takes up Chalmers notion not because he has an answer but,

“I mention both the hard problem and its panpsychist solution here as a wedge against the familiar, and ultimately authoritarian, attempts to close our accounts with extraordinary experiences by papering over the significant philosophical and scientific issues that inform the question of consciousness itself.” (High Weirdness)

Let’s face it most of the time when we come up against the unknown, the liminal horizon of the Outside or Beyond etc. we begin a process of trying to translate or reduce these experiences into the known categories of either mathematical notation or linguistic knowledge, but in the process of doing that we lose the the very kernel of the unknown as unknown (i.e., as that which is and will always be in excess of our various apparatuses, reductions, translations, etc.). There are other thinkers who have found a partial reason why we continue to function this way, as Andy Clark tells it:

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

So here we discover that long before our conscious mind begins to know or understand what is taking place, the brain is already processing this world of experience through techniques of guessing and predictive analysis in all those subsystems behind the curtain of conscious awareness. Yet, this little bit of knowledge is just one facet that is now going into answering that question David Chalmers asked a couple decades ago.

Even as I’m reading Erik Davis in this High Weirdness I realize as individuals we pick and choose various frameworks to as Heidegger would call it “enframe” our world. We can’t do otherwise. In our own Western civilization we’ve divided this territory into scientific and secular/religious socio-cultural frames of reference, both sides competing to reduce reality to one or the other worldview. Philosophers in their own pursuits have locked heads in a battle between analytical modes and hermeneutic modes or combinations of the two. The Real is always in excess of our systems of thinking no matter what we do. We can impose a top-down model, or a bottom-up model; either way we are always negotiating with an intractable reality that will not remain still, a moving target that always presents us with a liminal mask of the trickster. We’re always bound by the known even as we begin to step out into those liminal zones of the Great Unknown or Outside. The trick is like constructing a hologram, to waver between the particle and the wave, oscillating between the light and darkness of known and unknown without ascribing too much of it to our construction sets of math or language. To surf the liminal zones in-between horizons of possible/impossible without losing ourselves in either one… that’s the trick.


  1. Andy Clark. Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind

The Weird Canon

S.T. Joshi in a statement about the difference between old mode weird (i.e., Poe and Lovecraft, Machen, Blackwood, etc.) and our modern weird is the centrality of character development in the latter:

“What has been happening in weird fiction since Lovecraft is a vast reorientation of focus: ordinary people are somehow regarded as intrinsically important, and the weird phenomena are, very broadly, seen as threats to their middle-class stability. Stefan Dziemianowicz has labelled this tendency the “banalisation” of horror, although he did not intend the term pejoratively but merely descriptively. What he meant was the increasing concern by weird writers to depict the minute details of the mundane lives of mundane people, both in an attempt to win the reader’s sympathy (we all like to read about ourselves) and so as to lay the groundwork for the intrusion of the weird into a familiar realm.”1

I can’t say that is true of contemporary authors in toto (and to be honest this essay was circa 1992+), but there is something to it. There does seem to be a great divide between horror novelists and short story/tale writers. Tales have always spun off from two traditions: 1) on the one hand is the realist tradition best typified by Anton Chekov’s tales; on the other is the tradition of phantasmagoria of Kafka/Borges and the fantastic. (One could take this back further, but I’m just illustrating a point!) Most of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth century dwelt on atmosphere; theme; character/uncharacter (or the lack thereof, as in pov of a typical no one and anonymous, etc. – inconsistent or unreliable; or puppet style uncharacter…); supernaturalism; and, either ontological or epistemic stances onto various shades of cosmic pessimism. While novelists of horror seem more prone to spend a great deal of time on the mundane and character ridden development of common men and women in their daily lives while slowly allowing the weird to seep in from elsewhere over the course of the novel. (This is a little parodic because to go into it in depth and analytically it would take a book!)

Stephen King and others in the larger more expansive horror novels began centering on the average Joe on the street. Stephen King has stated that “my idea of what a horror story should be [is that] the monster shouldn’t be in a graveyard in decadent old Europe, but in the house down the street.” It’s this normalization of horror, or what one might term the re-humanization of horror from its roots in the Outside – or, Cosmic Horrorism which typifies much of the novelistic and some tale writers. It’s gentler and cozy, and even the monstrous other is somehow made more human in the sense of brought into the fold of everyday life rather than away from it. None of this is iron-clad, I’ve seen some contemporary tales that do both.

Here’s the clincher for Joshi: “I do not think that weird fiction should be about ordinary people. Even if one does not adopt the cosmic attitude of Lovecraft, even if one wishes to depict the insidious incursion of the weird into the ordinary, the emphasis should be on the weird and not the ordinary.”

Another of those got you’s in canon formation (Joshi):

“Some principle of selectivity must be had; and I can state unequivocally that my principle—hence my canon—is based upon the actual literary merits, as best I can assess them, of the works and authors I have read. … I am not, for example, interested in what weird fiction can tell us about our society because I am not interested in society. This may or may not be a deficiency on my part.

The overriding question is whether literary merit coincides with popular appeal.”

Anyone whose ever read Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon will realize his preference for the whole Romantic Tradition in thought and life, and his favorites in the canon pretty much fit into his tastes in this view of existence (Idealist in most ways… with a Gnostic reading… elitist and aesthetic). Joshi’s tends toward the pessimistic and fatalist, materialist (old school materialism!) and phantasmagoric. Yet, both agree on this: that the critical task of evaluation and judgement is the critic’s main job. In this sense a critic does not usually cater to the popular or mass readership of the day, but seeks to define a more careful and reasoned appeal to certain forms of style and aesthetics that seem to last and influence other writers rather than readers. What may be popular to a reader, may not be what influences other writers so that in the next generation what seemed to be a top seller just falls by the wayside because it no longer influences writers. The key here is “influence” in poets, novelists, short story, essayists, philosophers, etc. The one’s that keep getting printed over and over are usually shaping the living style and language of the current generation of writers in any one period. Some writers like Shakespeare or Proust will probably be read a few hundred years down the pipe, just as the pedagogical use of the tragedians of Greece from Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, and even the arch comic Aristophanes; and their main philosophical progenitors Plato and Aristotle. To understand why influence matters is something it would take a lifetime to ponder and write about. Bloom himself spent most of his career pondering just that and in the end has barely scratched the surface of what makes a writer become a part of the living active canon, a writer who has staying power.

Aesthetic or Political?

I tend to agree here, too, with Joshi, Bloom, and other old fashioned aesthetic critics. As Joshi says:

“Those readers and critics who object to criticism that is “subjective” miss the boat entirely: in searching for “objective” standards of valuation, they are attempting to turn criticism into an exact science (which it is not and never can be) and to bypass this whole issue of critical judgment—probably because they possess so little of it themselves.”

Too often now I see what I term political literary criticism that bases everything on some “objective” ideological set of criteria , that forces an author into either a Progressive or Reactionary cage of isolation/exclusion or community/inclusion. I recently saw a critical article on one of my favorite authors Flannery O’Conner that pointedly spent the whole essay seeking to attack her as a racist. I had to think about this. Hell, I’m an atheist, and O’Conner was a strict Catholic; and, yet, I didn’t bat an eye realizing that aesthetically and subjectively there is genius in her work, a teller of tales like no other before or sense; a unique style and aesthetic. And yet just because I don’t share her religious message doesn’t mean I can’t share in her stories as a reader.

As for her racism… one thing I’ve learned ages ago is to perceive the writing not the writer in the works. Most of us humans are complete disasters as “humans”… we’ve all been born happenstance into the cultural cages we were born into, and struggling to get out of these ideological hell holes is a life-long process. If we fail time and again we should agree with Samuel Beckett “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” In other words should I not read a writer’s works because they did not live up to some political agenda I hold dear? Should I exclude them from my reading experience because they failed to align themselves with my political, religious, or socio-cultural ideology? If we did that with every writer in Western Civ we’d probably read only a handful of authors to the exclusion of all others.

Does that mean that if I read an author whose work – let’s say H.P. Lovecraft who was a known bigot, reactionary, racist, etc., is anathema to my ideological stance I’ll be corrupted or ruined etc. Of course not, and the very idea that a person will somehow be a bad person for reading a writer who in their fleshly life harbored unsavory behaviors would be to continuously live under the shadow of censors… a thing Orwell wrote about over and over again. We live in an age of Censors now, in a society that is suddenly demonizing the arts for their stance in politics. It’s as if a new Inquisition were emerging in our midst. Everyone lives in fear of saying the wrong thing in social media, because there are Inquisitorial moralists and political extremists continuously seeking to vilify those who do not tow some normative and political stance and acceptable ideology. Being on the Left I hate reactionaries as much as anyone, but am I going to stop reading literature based on this stance? No. I’ll hate the person not the literature. If I began hating both I’d probably exclude 9/10ths’ of the world’s literature… because almost all of it fails this supposed objective criteria of our political moment.

In the end most of us make up our own minds (i.e., most of our critical appeals are after all subjective and aesthetic; that is, unless you’re a full blown moralist and political inquisitor!).


  1. Joshi, S. T.. The Advance of the Weird Tale . Sarnath Press.

The Uncanny Guest

The pessimist’s credo, or one of them, is that nonexistence never hurt anyone and existence hurts everyone. Although our selves may be illusory creations of consciousness, our pain is nonetheless real.

—Thomas Ligotti

Susan Lepselter speaking of the American Weird says: “The content of these stories varies, but their themes keep circling back to a sense that life in America is shaped by some ineffable, enormous power, a power that can be seen only in the patterns of its effects.”

If there were a central theme running through the gamut of the modern weird it would be this sense of a disturbing force, an uncanny intelligence just outside our awareness which has designs upon us and our lives. A force not of some older religious notions of gods or Gods, but of something felt but not seen, a malevolence at the heart of things, a vibrant and uncanny life just below the threshold of consciousness that seems to filter in from elsewhere not like some older theological creature so codified by the order of various traditional religions, but rather of some darker and unknown – or, even, yet to be known forces, a power that cannot be named so much as felt in the shadows of our haunted dreams and lives.

Freud would plunder the work of Schopenhauer and other Nineteenth Century thinkers, poets, philosophers and construct a theory around this uncanny guest: the death drive, a dark and ever apparent force shaping our lives through subtle transactions of repetitive and uncanny motions leading us through various decisions, indecisions, anxieties, love, hate, dread, fear, and many other affective relations toward that as Shakespeare would call it in a beautiful metaphor – the “unknown country” of death.

I’ve always been fascinated by the term Supernatural Horror ever since I read H.P. Lovecraft’s book of that name, and its history of authors who were for the most part non-believers and atheists who used the supernatural not as a belief system but rather as a unconcept or negative hole in aesthetics to define the Unknown beyond which we cannot think much less reason. And, yet, we’re driven to know what it is that affects us from this uncanny region of the Unknown. Why? Most atheists try to tell us that death is it, that once you die you just fall back into the rotting entropy of universal decay that is our Universe. And, yet, even those who proclaim being atheists at times turn skeptic and wonder about it, try to escape it, try to reason it out and shed light on it to assuage the rest of the vast majority who seem caught up in the irrational superstitions of our moment.

I think of all those strange television programs and books from popular culture dealing with Ghosts, UFO’s, Ancient Aliens, Conspiracy, etc. as if these people who hunt such things down using the latest technological toys were actually uncovering the dark Unknown in our midst. Obviously these programs are money makers and draw vast crowds to watch them, go to conventions, etc.. Why are people in an age that was supposed to have alleviated the anxieties of the old religions given over to so much irrationalism? For two hundred years philosophers, poets, thinkers, and literary types of every stripe have offered various thoughts, stories, etc. upon this very thing. And, yet, it seems to continue unabated, migrating into new and stranger territory. Why?

Of late been collecting works on just that and realizing no matter how we try to define this liminal zone of the uncanny, marvelous, fantastic, Supernatural, etc. it is still with us and not going away anytime soon. Book after book deal with it from various aesthetic to scientific angles. Amazing academic works that seem to churn out theory after theory which only complicate the problem rather than solving it. Even stranger is that in a time such as ours as the political and social and economic systems seem to be decaying into ruins around us this other realm of the uncanny seems to have shifted into high gear, producing in the vast majority of non-readers a sense of cultural anxiety and fear of the Unknown which is gathering every sort of irrational notion into the mix. What does it all mean?

I’ve always been fascinated by this strange world and its attraction on us. More from someone who long ago overcame my own religious heritage and its irrational baggage which seemed more about social control and fear than about its purported offerings of salvation and redemption. As the thinkers of the Nineteenth Century knew we seem to be in love with our chains, and freedom from those illusions and delusions, deceptions and cultural lies are the last thing that most humans are seeking. Freedom entails a lonely world leading only toward the Unknown without anything to anchor one’s beliefs or thoughts. Few will ever be free..

The Thing That Cannot Be Named: A Postphilosophical Digression

More and more as I study the philosophical bric-a-brac of our moment with its completed nihilism one realizes the apocalypse is past us, the end that all thought might arrive from some destitute future is behind us and all that is left is this passive sea of nothingness in which nothing happens but this circulation in the pond of destitution and bankruptcy. Politics is dead, only its echo in the nihilist factories of media continue to broadcast its demise; its finality. As Baudrillard suggests,

“The dialectic stage, the critical stage is empty. There is no more stage … The masses themselves are caught up in a gigantic process of inertia through speed. They are this excrescent, devouring, process that annihilates all growth and all surplus meaning. They are this circuit short-circuited by a monstrous finality.” (Baudrillard 1994, 161)

But what has happened? What is it that has left the stage? Maybe the “human” itself? This thing that had a history that could end, absolved into the non-being of its inessential inexistence? Are we not already beyond that thing, that past? Have we not already become something else, other? What is this thing we are, now? We speak of the transitory, the process, the transition which becomes; no before, no after – only this process of unmaking and making, or as Deleuze-Guattari once had it, this deterritorialization and vacating of the ruins which are taking place, have already taken place? A movement or happening in the midst of catastrophe; a catastrophe that no one was prepared for but all are experiencing. Isn’t this it? This unnamable thing of monstrous intent that is liquifying the old world of power like a deck of cards ignited by the fires of the new which cannot be named? All the names we’ve appended to it seem of little use: inhuman, unhuman, non-human, posthuman, transhuman… as if we could not throw off that thing: the human. As if we could only modify it, append some prefix to hold us in abeyance of the strange ending and finality of this ancient dis-ease, distance ourselves from the humus of its incessant after-life. So why is it so hard to unname it, conclude that which would leave it blankly on the deserts of this unmaking? And most of all: what is it that it is which has already arrived? The unnamed thing we are?

The Demiurge in Ancient and Modern Mythos

In my studies of Cormac McCarthy and others like Philip K. Dick, Lawrence Durrell, Thomas Mann, Herman Hesse, Nabokov, Borges, and even H.P. Lovecraft’s Old Ones, or Thomas Ligotti as parodic metaphor for nihilism and the Unknown menace at the core of our cosmic despair etc., all of who have used aspects of the ancient Platonic-Orphic or Gnostic-Archon mythologies. It’s the central character of the Demiurge as bungling artificer or mad blind god of Cosmos and Chaos and his minions who pervade the various underpinnings of these fictions. It’s strange how and why this ancient dualist mythology as old as Zoroaster pervades much of modern thought in both its religious transcendent variety and in the secular nihilist works of closure and anti-realist/irrealist.

I’ve always inclined to a Anti Anti-Gnosticism of the secular atheistic variety as a metaphor of weird-horror fiction with its notion of a cosmic pessimism and horror of consciousness. Even an antinatalist vision such as the one Christopher Slatsky uses in his titled story The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature traces the Idealist or Nature based aspects of this mythos (even if Slatsky himself is not overt in its dealings, but indirectly by way of this whole complex of proto-Gnostic ideas resurfacing in Blake, Holderlin, Shelley, Keats, and others: Novalis, Baudelaire, etc.). Underlying late Romantic, Decadent, Symbolist, Surrealist, and Post-Modern secular visions is this anti-Orthodox mythos which even in Bataille would arise as base materialist thought; or, later in Cioran, Nick Land (i.e., Land’s use of Capitalism = AI – a sort of retrovirus from the future: none other than the old blind Will-God-Archon) and others. The whole libidinal stream of affective and Will based philosophies of the Pessimism, Absurd, Existential, onward harbored it as well. A good background work for writers who use such things is The Demiurge in Ancient Thought: Secondary Gods and Divine Mediators by Carl Séan O’Brien.

Erasure

Each death is unique and personal; only the process and mutation is universal. Decay wanders through us like a forest fire; its random patterns chewing up the dark interior leaving strange signs and miracles of sublime enervation in its wake. Each of us is an artist of his/her own private disappearance, holding in silence only those experiences that if given form would do nothing but reveal the destitution of life as a project of despair. If we each refuse to shed tears at the approaching hour of our erasure it is only that in that moment of final parting we can shine like quasars at the bottom of a black hole.

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What about George Floyd?

George-Floyd-Protests-Photos-990x695

What about George Floyd? Black Lives Matter? What about real Justice? What about actual Change? Are we losing sight of the goal as the ideological crowd spin it into mere second hand commentary?

What’s sad is that George Floyd who triggered this strange uprising seems to have gotten lost in the cosmos, while all the ideological rifts of the past sixty years have resurfaced with a vengeance. The bottled up emotions of the recent plague have tapped into a world pain and suffering that have up to now been brewing like an open wound. And, yet, as we watch our leaders it begins to be apparent that they neither care about the actual and real situation of Black People, nor are they willing to step down out of their ideological boxes and enact legislation that will effect true change. Instead they send mixed signals, sling mud at each other, and generally continue the game of politics and despair which have led our country into a slow decline and decay. On the one side we have an autocrat and authoritarian President whose only goal is to incite violence and civil war across our nation. On the other hand you have Democrats whose weak response offers neither solution nor promise of real change.

In the middle you have both the personal family of George Floyd whose atrocious death at the hands of thugs in blue seems to be hijacked by all sides involved to what end? Once again words and more words rather than actions seem to be the order of the day. Talk and more talk… leading to what? The media plays the game while they can make money keeping things stirred up day by day, unleashing a series of disconnected and fragmentary commentaries from political and academic pundits as if this has ever changed anything. While the Black Community itself seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of words, and the power of the State regains its composure and standard violence toward the voice and bodies of the people.

Once again things never change, only the appearance of change rather than its actuality.

Michael Wehunt: The Teeth of America

Just finished reading Michael Wehunt‘s latest horror tale “The Teeth of America”, and it’s about the dark corruption that pervades every aspect of our society at the moment. Racism and Hate. There is a deep sickness in our society, one that has been festering for decades if not centuries. A corruption that has spread from east to west and back again… a malevolent poison that has been brewing in the depths of men’s hearts and minds. The Civil War became the greatest marking point in its history, one that opened a wound that has yet to heal our nation. Under the soil of our land is a haunting sense that something is not right with us, that things are not what they seem. For decades this cosmic cesspool of hate and bigotry has sunken its teeth into the American psyche leading young and old alike to enter some ungodly cult-like pact of delirium.

Michael’s tale turns this corruption seeping in from the outside in of our deadly heritage of hate and bigotry, our dark hinterlands of fascism and white supremacist ideologies and KKK nightmares, where Aryan and Skinhead brotherhoods roam in feral packs across our nation like mad dogs of some unholy faith… It’s a tale of bitter men whose sullied hearts of stone and cold intelligence have bitten the fruit of some ancient darkness and given birth to a strange god… and now that malevolent and tortured god is calling them home to a festival of massacres. 

Read it and weep for our world… The Teeth of America!

While your at it pick up one of Michael’s latest collections: on Amazon!

 

Rereading Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

This is sixth reading of Ligotti’s Conspiracy book, and every time something new pops out or a new perspective on various angles of vision suddenly rise up while others fall back into the background. With this reading I honed in on his stance of pessimism and anti-natalism. His vision pushes Schopenhauer’s vision of extreme menace and hooks it with the early rather than late Lovecraftian horror reality. To say the least it is an explosive and somber view of life and cosmos, a view that leaves us in no doubt as to what underpins his corpus of tales. His vision is definitely not for everyone, it’s probably the darkest vision of existence I’ve seen in my sixty-eight years. But that’s only to say that his is a vision very few will ever accept, for the central core of his vision is that 99% of humanity is in denial of this horror reality within which we are all situated.

As he surmise from Zapffe and others it’s not actually our fault either, we have since the origins of consciousness been the victims of our own success. Consciousness gave rise to certain repressive and defensive measures against our natural existence, a “denial of reality” syndrome if you will. As T.S. Eliot once suggested: “Human cannot bare too much reality!” That’s an understatement. As Ajit Varki and Danny Brower in their book Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind suggests somewhere along the way humans were became aware of their own mortality, and the anxiety, terror, and dread of physical death shaped their psyches to the point of madness. To counter this “humans needed to evolve a mechanism for overcoming this hurdle: the denial of reality.” As a consequence of this evolutionary quirk we now deny any aspects of reality that are not to our liking-we smoke cigarettes, eat unhealthy foods, and avoid exercise, knowing these habits are a prescription for an early death. And so what has worked to establish our species could be our undoing if we continue to deny the consequences of unrealistic approaches to everything from personal health to financial risk-taking to climate change.

Optimism, confidence, and courage in the face of these harsh truths are the markers of our denial, defensive and self-deluded deliriums of our escape and evasive tactics to leave our natural world of mortality and degradation behind. We are the mad creatures who have invented artificial worlds to hide ourselves from the truth of our cosmic predicament. As Ligotti says:

“As a species with consciousness, we do have our inconveniences. Yet these are of negligible importance compared to what it would be like to feel in our depths that we are nothing but human puppets—things of mistaken identity who must live with the terrible knowledge that they are not making a go of it on their own and are not what they once thought they were. At this time, barely anyone can conceive of this happening—of hitting bottom and finding to our despair that we can never again resurrect our repressions and denials. Not until that day of lost illusions comes, if it ever comes, will we all be competent to conceive of such a thing. But a great many more generations will pass through life before that happens, if it happens.” (TCHR, pp. 79-89)

What I believe?

I’m more of an Anti-Gnostic Gnostic – or a pessimist who no longer ontologizes the universe as pure evil per se as in the Gnostics, but rather as a part of our epistemic inheritance: a mood and temperament, not a realism. The only horror being consciousness itself. I’m not a religious creature and like Ligotti I believe there are no objective values (moral anti-realism), only the indifference and impersonalism of a dynamic universe without gods or God. We are part of the insanity of processes that have no rhyme or reason as attested by the various evolutionary histories in our planetary history, all bound to various cataclysmic events which have cycled through time producing a myriad of different species. All of which (or some estimate 90%) have for the most part seen their day and gone extinct just as we will in some future time to be determined. Even now the notion of our replacement or substitution is in the offing with all the various philosophies and sciences of the post-human divide. Who knows what will come? Certainly not I. I’m no prophet or even doomsayer. Just someone who has by temperament and situation been drawn to the pessimistic worldview rather than optimists.

The Great Filter, in the context of the Fermi paradox, is whatever prevents non-living matter from undergoing abiogenesis, in time, to expanding lasting life as measured by the Kardashev scale. The concept originates in Robin Hanson’s argument that the failure to find any extraterrestrial civilizations in the observable universe implies the possibility something is wrong with one or more of the arguments from various scientific disciplines that the appearance of advanced intelligent life is probable; this observation is conceptualized in terms of a “Great Filter” which acts to reduce the great number of sites where intelligent life might arise to the tiny number of intelligent species with advanced civilizations actually observed (currently just one: human). This probability threshold, which could lie behind us (in our past) or in front of us (in our future), might work as a barrier to the evolution of intelligent life, or as a high probability of self-destruction. The main counter-intuitive conclusion of this observation is that the easier it was for life to evolve to our stage, the bleaker our future chances probably are. (wiki)

As Ligotti suggests:

Consciousness is an existential liability, as every pessimist agrees—a blunder of blind nature, according to Zapffe, that has taken humankind down a black hole of logic. To make it through this life, we must make believe that we are not what we are—contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox. To correct this blunder, we should desist from procreating.” The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (p. 49).

Do I believe that will ever happen? No. Humanity will continue as it always has in denial and self-deception, full of optimistic hope and dreams of either some heavenly paradise or earthly one just beyond our present degradation. All religions are based on the notion of transcendence for the most part, the notion of a beyonding… hoping for some form of soteriological or redemptive clause in the sad state of affairs that will allow them to overcome human organic depletion and death. Sadly they are wrong. But, hey, I’m in the minority here. So I’ll just let it sit or stand at that.

Summing up the pessimistic imagination Thomas Ligotti in his The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror states:

Here, then, is the signature motif of the pessimistic imagination that Schopenhauer made discernible: Behind the scenes of life there is something pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world. For Zapffe, the evolutionary mutation of consciousness tugged us into tragedy. For Michelstaedter, individuals can exist only as unrealities that are made as they are made and that cannot make themselves otherwise because their hands are forced by the “god” of philopsychia (self-love) to accept positive illusions about themselves or not accept themselves at all. For Mainländer, a Will-to-die, not Schopenhauer’s Will-to-live, plays the occult master pulling our strings, making us dance in fitful motions like marionettes caught in a turbulent wake left by the passing of a self-murdered god. For Bahnsen, a purposeless force breathes a black life into everything and feasts upon it part by part, regurgitating itself into itself, ever-renewing the throbbing forms of its repast. For all others who suspect that something is amiss in the lifeblood of being, something they cannot verbalize, there are the malformed shades of suffering and death that chase them into the false light of contenting lies.

That says everything that needs to be said on the subject.

 

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

“But at the bottom, the immanent philosopher sees in the entire universe only the deepest longing for absolute annihilation, and it is as if he clearly hears the call that permeates all spheres of heaven: Redemption! Redemption! Death to our life! and the comforting answer: you will all find annihilation and be redeemed!”

― Philipp Mainländer, Die Philosophie Der Erlosung

Thomas Ligotti mentions Philipp Mainländer one of Schopenhauer’s followers whose Philosophy of Redemption exposed an inverted Gnosticism, one in which the supposed alien god of the Universe decides long ago to vacate his Outside Exile and die through his creation in a great festival of annihilation. The myth that Mainländer envisions is one in which this God rather than seeking to save humanity decides on another plan of redemption, one in which his secret wish to end himself becomes the path to redemption. This God sacrifices himself and his sparks are spread throughout the known universe, secret energeia or egregores that inhabit every living thing in the universe with this God’s corruption and horror reality of the “Will-to-Die”. So that unlike Schopenhauer’s Will-to-Live, this universal method of self-suicide or Deicide is instilled in every aspect of natural existence.

As Ligotti puts it: “Mainländer was confident that the Will-to-die he believed would well up in humanity had been spiritually grafted into us by a God who, in the beginning, masterminded His own quietus. It seems that existence was a horror to God. Unfortunately, God was impervious to the depredations of time. This being so, His only means to get free of Himself was by a divine form of suicide.” (TCHR, p. 35)

Mainländer was so sure his ideas would be adhered too that on the day of publication of his magisterial edifice he committed suicide. Ligotti concludes:

“In Mainländer’s philosophy, “God knew that He could change from a state of super-reality into non-being only through the development of a real world of multiformity.” Employing this strategy, He excluded Himself from being. “God is dead,” wrote Mainländer, “and His death was the life of the world.” Once the great individuation had been initiated, the momentum of its creator’s self-annihilation would continue until everything became exhausted by its own existence, which for human beings meant that the faster they learned that happiness was not as good as they thought it would be, the happier they would be to die out.” (ibid. p. 35)


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

Thomas Ligotti: Pessimism and Horror

Madness, chaos, bone-deep mayhem, devastation of innumerable souls—while we scream and perish, History licks a finger and turns the page. Fiction, unable to compete with the world for vividness of pain and lasting effects of fear, compensates in its own way. How? By inventing more bizarre means to outrageous ends. Among these means, of course, is the supernatural. In transforming natural ordeals into supernatural ones, we find the strength to affirm and deny their horror simultaneously, to savor and suffer them at the same time.

So it is that supernatural horror is the product of a profoundly divided species of being. It is not the pastime of even our closest relations in the wholly natural world: we gained it, as part of our gloomy inheritance, when we became what we are. Once awareness of the human predicament was achieved, we immediately took off in two directions, splitting ourselves down the middle. One half became dedicated to apologetics, even celebration, of our new toy of consciousness. The other half condemned and occasionally launched direct assaults on this “gift.”

Supernatural horror was one of the ways we found that would allow us to live with our double selves. By its employ, we discovered how to take all the things that victimize us in our natural lives and turn them into the very stuff of demonic delight in our fantasy lives. In story and song, we could entertain ourselves with the worst we could think of, overwriting real pains with ones that were unreal and harmless to our species. We can also do this trick without trespassing onto the property of supernatural horror, but then we risk running into miseries that are too close to home. While horror may make us squirm or quake, it will not make us cry at the pity of things. The vampire may symbolize our horror of both life and death, but none of us has ever been uprooted by a symbol. The zombie may conceptualize our sickness of the flesh and its appetites, but no one has ever been sickened to death by a concept. By means of supernatural horror we may pull our own strings of fate without collapsing—natural-born puppets whose lips are painted with our own blood.

—Thomas Ligotti, Songs of a Dead Dreamer

The Art of Extinction

“On rare occasions he even spoke to me,’ the doctor said, ‘about the uncreation of his whole life.'”

“Idiots, they mourn the extinction of their beauties and their loves— their pitiful vices— as if these were anything but futile illusions. And such illusions only breed other, more horrible, fantasies: pain, isolation, and ultimate annihilation.”

– Thomas Ligotti

If as Braidotti in an essay on the Deleuzian Century puts it that philosophy should celebrate “the forces of creation (making things happen), practice an activism through art, through an art of living”, then what would a philosophy that celebrated the forces of decreation or uncreation, that practices a deactivation of all affirmation and positivity by way of an absolute negation, through an art of extinction look like? As a character in one of Thomas Ligotti’s tales puts it:

“I cannot help remaining wide awake with visions of that deformed specter of Ascrobius and pondering upon what unimaginable planes of contemplation it dreams of another act of uncreation, a new and far-reaching effort of great power and more certain permanence.”

What if rather than some less than adequate mass suicide or futurial event of mass extinction (natural or otherwise), we instead activate the decreation of history itself, disturb the black waters of human origins and unmake the very substance of our own beginnings? Isn’t this the core of all inhuman, posthuman, and transhuman philosophies: to become otherings? Why not instead just unmake this transient mobility, distill from the traces of its stain a final thread that like all horror realities unbinds it to the Outside – the Unknown. A great unravelling of the human into something non-human, an uncreation into elsewhere?

May that which is low in us go downwards so that what is high can go upwards. For we are wrong side upward. We are born thus. To re-establish order is to undo the creature in us.

– Simon Weil, Gravity and Grace

Unmaking, decreating, is the only task man may take upon himself, if he aspires, as everything suggests, to distinguish himself from the Creator.

– E. M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born

The World Does Not Exist

“And why do we smell only stale incense and rarely have the odours of paradise about us? Because we have fallen into language. Words. What if words were not after all a great blessing but an obstacle? An interference with direct experience? If we had not developed language, would we have developed instead a finely tuned apprehension of each other’s moods and feelings, quite close to telepathy? Might we also see, hear, smell and feel everything around us more intently, more intensely? Could we have become closer to the immediate, the immanent world, ‘things as they are’? Instead of living in the moment, it’s as if we have to convert that moment into a scrambled code of itself, its signifier in words. Like looking at the shapes ‘s e a’ instead of at the sea itself.”1

As I was reading this it reminded me of all the lessons of Kant. The notion that we never truly see things as they are, that we are always already seeing the past even as we open our eyes seeing the smile of our lover. Everything we assume is right there in front of us, everything we assume is directly accessible to our senses is always already pre-processed by our brain and given back to us as if this is the real world. It’s not. We have never had direct access to the world. The world in fact does not truly exist except as a packaged filter handed to our consciousness by those deep processes of the brain that we are absolutely blind to. This is old hat to philosophers, but for us who suddenly become aware of the simplicity of this it’s both strange and eerie. That our whole conscious lives are lived in the past, even if only by milliseconds, is both astounding and frightening. Isn’t this the stage magician’s power over us, this ability to manipulate those filters of the brain, to trick us into believing we see what we do not see? Aren’t we always behind the eight ball, both victims and dupes of our brain’s evolutionary muck; all of us stuck in some niche of ancient survivalist praxis that our brain through millennia of habit like some old LP record has followed the grooves so many times that the moment the groove is cut, or a gap is formed it gets stuck in a loop unable to move forward or backwards. Maybe our lives are just broken vinyl records, repeating the time vectors of some ancient evolutionary song we’ve all forgotten…


  1. Justin Isis. Marked to Die: A Tribute to Mark Samuels Snuggly Books.

Maurice Levy on Lovecraft’s Fantastic

To our mind, the fantastic is born from the divorce produced between the perfect lucidity of the characters and the dream images that they encounter. Lacking any more precise criteria, one could almost measure the fantastic by the degree of consciousness of the heroes on one side, and on the other the intensity of the dream images that surround them. (p. 13)

—Maurice Levy, Lovecraft: A Study of the Fantastic

Joel Lane on Lovecraft

Joel Lane on Lovecraft:

“…his work may, at its best, be nuanced and complex—but like the tortured landscapes of his major stories, it works out every deformation on its surface. Part of Lovecraft’s significance in the weird fiction genre is his commitment to making the unknown visible. He does so with a rhetorical flair that would ring hollow if it were not combined with a forensic attention to the meaning of details. The damaged reality he portrays is inscribed with the symptoms of disease and decay.

At its heart, Lovecraft’s narrative is one of loss: the loss of health, sanity, faith, home, family and identity. These protective shells around the human condition are not only broken by events in his stories, but are shown to be illusory. His use of supernatural horror and science fiction, and of an original mythology that blends the two, represents an increasingly subtle approach towards his core agenda of showing the human soul exposed to the cold wind of a terrible reality.

But although the sensibility underlying his stories is acutely personal, Lovecraft rarely dwells on the inner life of any character. Rather, he explores the development in space and time of malign or terrible processes, like a doctor tracking the progress of a disease. The most remarkable aspect of his storytelling is his commitment to giving horror a morbid geography and history of its own, while showing individuals caught up in its strands like moths that have flown blindly into a geometrical and lethal web.

Lovecraft’s stories blend the themes of death, madness and disease with the compensatory themes of intellectual and imaginative vision, always reaching towards a tragic perspective but withdrawing into irony, bitterness or violence. Closure is his comfort zone. Over two decades of writing he built increasingly complex and ambitious narratives, ultimately balancing his sense of loss with a commitment to the mysteries of a world beyond the human. That vision is expressed most starkly by his character Wilbur Whateley, who writes in his fourth year of life: ‘I wonder how I shall look when the earth is cleared and there are no earth beings on it.’ Becoming alien is a way to take meaning from the journey of alienation.”

– Joel Lane, This Spectacular Darkness: Critical Essays

 

What Keeps Us Going

Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence. —Jorge-Luis Borges

When I was a young man Nietzsche was my constant companion, a thinker I could argue with, hold infinite conversations with if only to debate his almost oracle like utterances. But then there came a time when I could not read his works at all, as if old friends had suddenly become enemies – not so much because we’d parted ways in our thoughts, but because his conversations ended in nothing going nowhere. His oracular voice just seemed absurd and repetitive to the point that none of his thoughts cohered anymore. Even now when I pick up one of his works (and, I’ve tried to reread him of late!) I fail at holding a conversation for more than a few minutes.

With certain other writers I’ve never had that issue. I’ve been of late rereading Jorge-Luis Borges’s fictions and non-fictions and poetry, along with his various conversations with friends over the years, and he above all authors is still with me as if his voice and utterance and conversational tone were my own. If there is something to Bloom’s theories of influence (and I believe there is!) it’s this staying power of certain authors to help one to continue a lifetime’s conversation. This inner dialogue (as old as Socrates and Plato) is at the heart of every writer’s and reader’s life. We all have those voices that seem to come and go like unwanted guests who prod us, cajole us, and awaken in us that need to talk and listen. I’ve only ever had a handful of those beings in my life and mind: E.M. Cioran, Jorge-Luis Borges, J.G. Ballard, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Ligotti and a few others that return time and again like old friends to occupy a few moments of my day in an endless or infinite conversation. Maybe that’s what keeps us going…

What Do We Have That Stays

 

These few frayed memories drifting past,
ghosts of another age; and I, another ghost
deceived and deceiving, tempted to utter something, anything.

Even now I sift through these shadows wondering
What do we have that stays…

 

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2020 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Amateur Philosophy?

Amateur Philosophy?

Always irks me when I read a critic discussing Thomas Ligotti as an “amateur philosopher” (whatever the heck that is… as what? compared to a “professional” philosopher?). As Ligotti has stated in several interviews it wasn’t philosophy per se that interested him, he wasn’t interested in concepts, what interested him was certain problems. In his Conspiracy he was interested only in explaining the ideas of Peter Wessel Zapffe and how they relate to the following specialized problem:

“Is being alive all right?”

Ligotti continues:

“Zapffe viewed consciousness as an emergent property of the brain that occurred at some point in the physical evolution of human beings. Consciousness as a biological phenomenon is also the view of respectable and well-known philosophers like John Searle. But I decided not to go into either parallel or rival theories of consciousness to that of Zapffe. That would have eaten up pages at a point in the book where I thought I needed to move on and get as fast as possible to my principal interest: “Is being alive all right.” It would have gotten into technical longueurs and made The Conspiracy against the Human Race a work of philosophy, or, more accurately, a sad attempt at writing a work of philosophy that could be revered and famously misunderstood. That wasn’t my aim. I wanted to write about how I saw human existence— and nothing else.”

Remember he didn’t call it The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror for nothing… Contrivance: Sense evolution (in French) was from “invent with ingenuity” to “invent falsely.” And, horror: a sense of “dread, veneration, religious awe”. You get the sense that Ligotti’s book is a machine for contriving and probing the extremes of human consciousness under the shadow of dread and wonder.

 

Ligotti, Poe, and Eroticism

As I was rereading Thomas Ligotti’s first published tale “Allan And Adelaide: An Arabesque” a homage to his early love of Poe I was reminded once again of Camille Paglia’s observation: “There is no sex instinct per se in Poe. His eroticism is in the paroxysms of suffering, the ecstatic, self-inflaming surrender to tyrant mothers.”1 If this can be said of Poe (and I think it can!), then anyone who has read Ligotti’s tales will admit that the same understated aesthetic pervades his works as well. Who will forget that last message of Adelaide – sister-mother of brother, Allan:

“All alone, I know. And betrayed. Lost and lonely Allan. You were always alone, my brother, and so was I. It could never have been otherwise. I know how my lies have hurt you, and what they drove you to do. But none of that matters now, none of that ever mattered, for if we could not truly share our lives then at least we always shared a soul, did we not? That is the only thing, despite all the masks and mirrors and whatever it was we thought we were. So many things we could not share until now. Now I can share with you the most precious thing of all… I will share my death. Come to me and share my death. Yes, closer. Do not think about the blood, it is both of ours. Now even closer. See how your blood flows with mine.”

Poe’s great tyrant mothers, vampires one and all, haunting this passage… Ligotti would go beyond Poe, and yet would keep that eroticism without sex throughout his tales. One remembers the interview in which he is asked:

VS: Are you dating anyone? Any interest there in the foreseeable future? If not, then do you value all the time which is not wasted on sex and relationships (something which probably takes up 70% of most people’s mental energy)? …

TL: I’ve been checking out computer matchmaking sites for years but I can’t find anyone whose idea of a good time is dinner and a suicide pact.

Morbid humor? Evasion? A sort of ironic or sardonic tip of the hat to a devilish imp of the perversea la Poe? When asked about his love of Decadent literature he said: “During my Decadent phase from the mid-seventies to the early eighties, I preferred the world-weary stuff to the love-and-corpse stuff, although most decadents wrote both, as is well exemplified by Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-morte.” It’s this tendency toward the morbidity and weariness of things, the almost Gnostic world-rejection without its redemptive soteriological goals that pervades Ligotti’s aesthetics of pessimism.
——————————————————
1. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 573). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

After the Plague

Many believed that things would return to normal. It went on like that for weeks and weeks, then months and months. Oh we did finally return to work, but something had changed. The old camaraderie, the joking around the water fountain, the smirking and cat calls, whistles and jibes had gone silent, never to return. We all sat in our cubicles like rats in a trap, unable to speak or say anything. We sat there like ghosts of our former selves, our eyes glued only to our screens. It was as if the world had emptied itself of the last vestige of the human spirit and replaced it with this “thing”: an indefinable absence; a listless, lifeless, insubstantial void. We all felt it but were afraid to admit it even to ourselves. Something had died inside. We had died inside.

New rules had entered our lives. We no longer had those morning stand-ups, debriefings, or round table discussions about our daily quotas or activities. Instead we had screen ops, team-speak or discord meetings. All part of the new social distancing regulations that had taken over all our lives. Oh sure there were many who rebelled against such things at first. People who bucked the system, but most of these had fallen by the wayside long ago, sickened by their own solitude, ostracized and left to fend for themselves in empty rooms. One could find such creatures talking to themselves, taking on the role of this or that conversational tone, playing a sort of musical chair routine with themselves as the multitude in and endless dance of meaningless chatter. These had been isolated cases. Most of us just continued pretending that face to face discussions were a thing of the past and that now and from now on humans would exist in isolation. We accepted the inevitable.

We accepted the new normal.

Whether in the office, the call center, the service counter, in the creative industries, the retail show-floor or the backroom warehouse, life seemed to be far away. We’d always known our daily jobs were part of a system whose only benefit was to accumulate ruins, our lives a part of a receding value plan that would leave us broken at the end like so many dolls left on the shelves of forgotten childhood dreams. But what had now become evident was the sheer pointlessness of our daily endeavors. A shifting journey without end or rationale, slowly poisoning almost every aspect of our lives on the job, even lingering in our slow withdrawal at the end of our grinding days. But, of course, it is never over. The grind and circle of our endless apathy and degradation continue… even after the plague.

 

The Nameless


We live in a world where everything has a name, and yet when we come upon something that cannot be put into words, labeled, pinned down with its concept or metaphor, hyperbole or metonym we feel a certain dread as if the world had suddenly thrown us into some strange realm outside our normal everyday life. Much of modern and postmodern poetry dealt with the opposite conundrum: it felt that all the names we’ve given things were in error, so it began as in Wallace Stevens a project of unnaming rather than naming things.

At the end of Chapter 3 of Through the Looking-Glass. After passing through her reflection and making her way across the chessboard country that lies behind it, Alice reaches a dark wood where (she has been told) things have no names. “Well, at any rate it’s a great comfort,” she says bravely, “after being so hot, to get into the — into the — into what?” Astonished at not being able to think of the word, Alice tries to remember. And yet she cannot… Trying to recall the word for the place she is in, accustomed to putting into words her experience of reality, Alice suddenly discovers that nothing actually has a name: that until she herself can name something, that thing will remain nameless, present but silent, intangible as a ghost. Must she remember these forgotten names? Or must she make them up, brand new?

Central to horror and the weird at least since Lovecraft has been this twofold project of naming/unanming, of being confronted by the nameless and ill-defined strangeness of things. Most of us feel so cozy in our named worlds where we share language with our culture and define reality by our dictionaries. Without our words we seem lost in a cosmic abyss where things could be anything they wanted to be, that everything is in flux, hallucinatory, drifting in a space outside our grasp; chaotic. What does one do with the nameless? What does one do with the named when one realizes it too may be other than what we’ve so comfortably believed it to be because it was tamed by a name? What happens when a thing so familiar suddenly loses its name and enters that defamiliarized and uncanny space of namelessness?

 

In The Shadow of Deception

There is an aphorism, a short epiphanic text in Cioran’s A Short History of Decay which seems almost displaced, incommensurate with all that has come before it. One remembers how many years, and in many of his early Romanian books he devoted his life to certain women, to the saints… in this particular aphorism he recounts his love of those strange women and their haunting mysticism, a litany of their hystericisms and of his devotion to them… yet after this paean he reveals a moment when this love stopped:

“I lived for years in the shadow of these women, these saints, believing that no poet, sage, or madman would ever equal them. I expended, in my fervor for them, all my powers of worship, my vitality in desire, my ardor in dreams. And then . . . I stopped loving them.”

He gives no reason for this moment of dejection and abandonment, of his sudden undevotion. Yet, there is this sense of both loss and relief, maybe even the feeling that something of the disillusion many of us have had along the path of existence that the deep deceptions, the illusions that had up to that moment empowered us had suddenly taken on that ancient disenchantment that comes with knowing one’s self-deceptions were all along traps, cages for our desires that had enslaved our minds within a world of mere dreams of transcendence. And, suddenly, alone, abandoned to the isolation of our immanent existence we felt betrayed by our own inner need to believe… this sense of release from one’s deepest held desires and their nullity is felt as both loss and abandonment. Knowing there will never be a return to that naïve world of desire we wander in its dissolution like bandits in a night of endless torpor. Never, never again to feel the rapture nor ecstasy of our early loves… and delusions.

The Poet

This is how I recognize an authentic poet: by frequenting him, living a long time in the intimacy of his work, something changes in myself: not so much my inclinations or my tastes as my very blood, as if a subtle disease had been injected to alter its course, its density and nature. Valéry and Stefan George leave us where we picked them up, or else make us more demanding on the formal level of the mind: they are geniuses we have no need of, they are merely artists. But a Shelley, but a Baudelaire, but a Rilke intervene in the deepest part of our organism which annexes them as it would a vice. In their vicinity, a body is fortified, then weakens and disintegrates. For the poet is an agent of destruction, a virus, a disguised disease, and the gravest danger, though a wonderfully vague one, for our red corpuscles. To live around him is to feel your blood run thin, to dream a paradise of anemia, and to hear, in your veins, the rustle of tears. . . .

—E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

Job of the Parisian Salon

“May the day of my birth perish. May it turn to darkness. May no light shine on it. May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more.”

The Book of Job

Thus there are sacrificed men who pay for the unconsciousness of others, who expiate not only their own happiness but that of strangers. Thus equilibrium is restored; the proportion of joys and pains becomes harmonious. If an obscure universal principle has decreed that you belong to the order of victims, you will end your days stamping underfoot the speck of paradise you hid within yourself, and whatever impulse gleamed in your eyes and your dreams will be sullied by the impurity of time, matter, and men. You will have a dungheap for pedestal, for tribune a rack and thumb screw. You will be worthy of no more than a leprous glory and a crown of spit. Try to walk beside those entitled to everything, to whom all paths are open? But dust and ashes themselves will rise up to bar you from the exits of time and the evasions of dreams. Whatever direction you take, your steps will be mired, your voices will proclaim only the hymns of mud, and over your bent heads, your heavy hearts, in which only self-pity dwells, will pass no more than the breath of the happy, blessed toys of a nameless irony as little to blame as you are.

—E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

Stepping back… and moving forward

More unreal than a star glimpsed in some hallucination, it suggests the condition of a sidereal pirouette—while on life’s circumference the soul promenades, meeting only itself over and over again, itself and its impotence to answer the call of the Void.

—E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

I think many of us come to a point when we’re so immersed in a subject, so overwhelmed by our involvement with a specific writer: the background reading, the scholarly, source, biographical, philosophical, etc., that we end up in that place of “too muchness”. At such times we realize the best thing to do is take a step back, take time off, do other activities, forget and forget again… until one day one remembers, gets an urge to once again take up the path one abandoned oh so long ago… one’s eyes refreshed, the task ahead suddenly feels alive and vibrant again, and one is no longer overwhelmed by the vast amount of information accumulated in notes, essays, asides, conversations, diaries, etc. One feels the prospects of moving ahead is now there, awaiting one. One is suddenly reenergized by the prospect of sitting down and writing out the thoughts that have for so long run their course just below the threshold of consciousness… one begins typing, and typing, and typing… the mind flows…

The Boredom of the End

“The feeling of boredom originates for me in a sense of the absurdity of a reality which is insufficient, or anyhow unable, to convince me of its own effective existence.”

– Alberto Moravia, Boredom

Aren’t we all bored now? Isn’t the absurdity of our current predicament in itself the very embodiment of this sense that reality has become insufficient, that its existence and the tangibility of its actuality has become lost in so many fragments of our media frenetic culture of malaise and ill-health? Are we entering the twilight zone of our own fetid systems of decadence and erosion, the hyperreal become the last refuge of our demented dreams of reality. Maybe now only a politics of despair can save us from our apathy and decline into nothingness. Our political leaders have become fragments of this disarray, living exemplum of the dark decadence of our era. We gaze on this circus like lost clowns in search of the moon, but even the moon is slowly emptying itself of our humanity. What will be left when the last human footprint on the sand is wiped away by the mother of all mothers, the ocean. The tread of our disappearance a mere glint of shadow on a morning wave receding into an infinite ocean of darkness and night, void and silence.

Recent Interview with Thomas Ligotti

Detecting Pessimism: Thomas Ligotti and The Weird in an Age of Post-Truth

The Symposium was the natural culmination of The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies’ long attraction and interest in the fiction, philosophy and artistry of Thomas Ligotti. Since copies of Teatro Grottesco (2008) and The Conspiracy against the Human Race (2010) began being passed around an in-house reading group a few years earlier, Ligotti’s ideas and images have since slowly burning away – haunting, even – the minds of academic staff and students aligned to the centre, challenging how we approach and appreciate weird fiction, pessimism and supernatural horror.


Excellent group of essays on Thomas Ligotti, and a recent interview with the author himself! Read interview here.

 

Time’s Tears

So it is that after each night, facing a new day, the impossible necessity of dealing with it fills us with dread; exiled in light as if the world had just started, inventing the sun, we flee from tears—just one of which would be enough to wash us out of time.

—E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

Contemporary Idealism as a Realism

Contemporary Idealism as a Realism

“The concrete universal, or the whole determined by the particulars it generates and that differentiate it in turn, is the Idea exactly as Platonism conceived it: as the cause of the approximations of becomings to particular forms, and as the “setting into order of this universe” from disorder (ataxia), as organization. When idealism is therefore presented as realism concerning the Idea, this means: first, that the Idea is causal in terms of organization; second, that this is an organization that is not formal or abstract in the separable sense, but rather concretely relates part to whole as the whole; and third, therefore that such an idealism is a one-world idealism that must, accordingly, take nature seriously.”

– Idealism: The History of a Philosophy Iain Hamilton Grant, Sean Watson, and Jeremy Dunham

As I’ve studied “dialectical materialism” in our contemporaries with Badiou’s return to Plato, and Zizek’s return to Hegel-Lacan etc., with their central critique of what Badiou terms “democratic materialism” (i.e, the whole naturalist and empirical heritage under Capitalist regimes). It is as if something is emerging-merging in both camps toward if not a new philosophical orientation then at least a strange new war on certain old misinterpretations of our past views on Idealism-Materialism. Against the old two-world view of Platonic traditions arises in our time a one-world view that incorporates Ideas as part of reality rather than as existing outside it in some heaven of abstraction. Ergo the Hegelian “concrete universal” etc. We await some young new philosopher who will give birth to this new paradigm and synthesize the mass of data and thought underlying all these various strands. I sometimes wish I were twenty again rather than almost seventy… oh what fun the young philosopher-scientist-mathematicians living now are having.

In the absence of love…

“Tears do not burn except in solitude.”
― Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

I felt you touch me softly
in the night

the silence of your breath
reaching across the chasm of my sleeping ear

awakened I reached out for your absence


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2020 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.