The Horror of the Real: Against Alienation?

 

Rereading Steven Shaviro’s excellent essay on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian again “The Very Life of the Darkness”: A Reading of Blood Meridian. In it he makes an acute observation:

“There is only war, there is only the dance. Exile is not deprivation or loss, but our primordial and positive condition. For there can be no alienation when there is no originary state for us to be alienated from.”

I agree. In a world such as ours based as it is now in a secular and nihilistic order, there is no such thing as alienation – a notion that goes against almost all of the critiques of the Left or Right, socialist atheist or reactionary religious. Once you have eliminated transcendence, eliminated the Torah, Bible, or Koran; or any of the pagan worlds from your world view there can be no alienation in the sense that there is no paradise, no garden of Eden, no original pristine realm or even fall from such a realm… there is nothing, absolutely nothing to which a nostalgic return could be offered. This is why so much horror that offers any form of redemptive vision to me is false, because in a world such as ours where there is no transcendence, only absolute immanence prevails; there is no escape, no recourse, no original innocence from which we have fallen, etc.; there is only an absolute accident. Yet, to admit that there is no return, no redemptive vision to which we can become disalienated through some original relation is not in itself a bad thing, instead it opens us up to the unknown possibility of our own absolute freedom which no longer grounded in some past event. Instead we are now alone, without recourse other than the imaginative and creative powers of our own making. That means it’s up to us to change, to formulate a future worth living in rather than seeking some redemptive power out of some mythical past of our origins.

We are the products not of God(s) or any other imagined or invented creative force, will, intellect, spirit, Geist, etc.. No. We are like everything else in this depleted cosmos of absolute indifference mere accidents of time, nothing more. So if one is not alienated from some mythic paradise of origins what recourse do we have? None. Absolutely none. All our ideological constructs based on such alienation are already misleading and false from get go. So that most of our politics is based on sheer theological fantasies, whether of secular or religious varieties. Same with fictions: those purporting to offer some salvational vision of redemption for our future are both erroneous and toxic in that they offer hope where there is none. Sadly we seem bent on defying this truth and continuing with our lust for transcendence and salvatory visions. Instead we should begin seeing ourselves as we are: bound within a cosmic indifference. From that one truth we can then begin to imagine ourselves differently as part of this cosmos rather than creatures whose existence must be elsewhere. If we are children of indifference then we are free to absorb that truth and move on, which means we do not ourselves need to be indifferent. We might be something that is totally unnatural to the very system of indifference around us; it’s knowing this that shocks us and causes us to invent solutions for the impossible thing we are in an indifferent cosmos. We are as far as we know the only thing that is not indifferent. We have developed the ability to care, that makes us different from the surrounding indifference within which we find ourselves. As Shaviro will remind us:

Blood Meridian is not a salvation narrative; we can be rescued neither by faith nor by works nor by grace. It is useless to look for ulterior, redemptive meanings, useless even to posit the irredeemable gratuitousness of our abandonment in the form of some existential category such as Heideggerian “thrownness” (Geworfenheit). We have not fallen here or been ”thrown” here, for we have always been here, and always will be. Only the judge seems descended from another world (125). (PM)

 


  1.  Luce, Dianne C.. Perspectives on McCarthy. University Press of Mississippi; Revised edition (January 1, 1999) PM

Horror Literature as Extreme Pessimism

Mainländer sees this process of cosmic death taking place all throughout nature, in both the organic and inorganic realms, and he goes into great detail about how it takes place everywhere in the universe.

—Frederick C. Beiser,  Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900

The new genre of supernatural horror fiction had its roots in Gothic literature, but it evolved as a specific response to the pressures of modernity. Suddenly it was essential to ask new questions about human nature and our place in the world. Horror fiction was both a wake for Christianity and an attempt to generate new myths—or a new kind of imagination—that could deal with the new realities.

—Joel Lane,  This Spectacular Darkness: Critical Essays

In many ways pessimism was a reaction to the influx of texts on Buddhism, Gnosticism, and Egyptian metaphysics during the early Nineteenth Century. This Western reception of these notions would spawn a typical misreading of these ancient peoples thoughts, but one that would invent a new secular negativity against all the Idealist and Socialist Utopianism that were part of the mainstream culture of the era.

For the past year I’ve plunged through most of the works on pessimism I could find, along with original source material (Philosophers and Literary forms, etc.), and secondary works during that era and through decadence, modernism, post-modernism, and our own era of speculative philosophies.

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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

 

The Horned One’s Dilemma

And why wander in these labyrinths? Once more, for aesthetic reasons; because this present infinity, these “vertiginous symmetries,” have their tragic beauty.
—Jorge Luis Borges

They were shining a light on my horns when I unscrewed one and handed it to the hostess. Now my head was tilting to the left, which seemed appropriate under the circumstances. The hostess smiled, believing my weaponized horn was now in safekeeping as she locked it up in the festival’s safe. She pointed to the banquet tables and beckoned me to enjoy myself. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

The unrest at the border to the labyrinth had been building for some time now. I’d tried everything to defuse the situation, but things had escalated out of control as certain bigoted and cowardly servants of the Leader had taken things into their own hands and murdered many of my innocent brethren, sisters, and their children. No one was safe anymore. The sociopathy of the Leader’s servants had forced us to retreat behind our great walls. Something had to be done, and that duty fell squarely on my shoulders. Sadly.

Ever since the migrations began the Leader had enforced stringent controls along the perimeter of the Labyrinth. No one in, no one out. His policy was inescapable. Those caught trying to cross the demarcation zone were locked up in steel pens like animals. This pained me immensely, but what was I to do? I called a counsel of the elders, and we discussed the issue but were unable to come to any sense of resolution concerning the matter. Broadcasts were sent out condemning the Leader for his strong man actions, we bellowed our complaints from the high walls across the dark hinterlands of the Leader’s country to no avail. We were alone; isolated. So we sent our Ambassador to convene with the Leader, giving him our terms. The Leader returned our Ambassador: dead. The counsel realized we had no recourse left, so they sent for the Leader to meet on neutral grounds in the midst of the Festival of Oryk.

§

As the Leader of this mad country moved silently through the throng toward the podium with his bodyguards I kept thinking of the bull run in Gazmplona. My one remaining horn seemed to realize the gravity of the situation as I loped slowly and methodically into the crowd gathering around the clown at the center of this controversy. Then I realized I was not alone as I saw my brothers, one-horned and primed, moving toward the laughing jackal on his podium; their horns rising against the bright halo of the mid-day sun like knives in a dream of revenge.

As I reached the inner circle of the festivities I let out a deep bellow; the resonance of its dark import echoing against the stone walls of the labyrinth. The laughter of my brothers followed suit, while the clattering of our hooves on the cobbled pathways, and the broken curvature of our splayed horns ringing out as we clashed with the Leader’s bodyguards, brought fear to the smirking clown and his entourage. Pacing round and round the podium like a herd of angered beasts we shouted out our complaints till the walls of the gray hollows began falling inward, and the crowd dispersed to the four corners of the maze. We stood there in the midst of the rubble and ruins like minions of some blasted daemon, our bellowing laughter following the Leader and his entourage into the cold gray night of the labyrinth.

We knew things would never be the same…

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019

The Eruption of Chaos: Horror Literature as an Anaretic Inferno

Most horror, whether it’s real or fictitious, literary or cinematic, deals with the eruption of chaos into human existence…

—Clive Barker, Where Nightmares Come From

On close inspection, all literature is probably a version of the apocalypse that seems to me rooted, no matter what its sociohistorical conditions might be, on the fragile border where identities  do not exist or only barely so—double, fuzzy, heterogeneous, animal, metamorphosed, altered, abject.

—Julia Kristeva, The Powers of Horror

But what is chaos? Have we even begun to discern this uncanny guest in our midst, tempted it to reveal its cruel art? “Above all else, chaotic textuality must affirm conflict as an indispensable component of its endeavor; it must not only accept and brave the emergence of conflict but also actively pursue a new definition of creative violence. Indeed, it must even go so far as to strive toward the actualization of a will to cruelty; it must violate and overturn, tear and disfigure the cosmos of the text without judgment, without mercy, vowed only to the unrelenting and all-consuming practice of the brutal.”1 Schopenhauer believed that at the heart of the cosmos was a “will to live”; Nietzsche, a “will to power”. Others have like the pessimist Philipp Mainländer – the pseudonym of Philip Batz, believed that the universe was a mere device for God’s own suicide, and that we were his chosen vehicles to carry out the dire process given within us a “will to death and suicide”.2 Antonin Artaud would develop an art of cruelty, whose aim was to extend consciousness into realms previously considered unknowable, such as death and our primal origins. Into the treacherous regions of drugs and magic. He believed liberation of the subconscious and full realization of the nature of cruelty would enable us to know ourselves. This self-knowledge was to produce a revolution in thought, because its liberating effect was not to be restricted to the arts but must embrace everything.3 As one essayist states it:

What Artaud primarily means by cruelty is “rigor, implacable intention and decision, irreversible and absolute determination.” Such determination is in service of a “blind appetite for life capable of overriding everything” in its aim to wake people up—jolt them out of complacency—and put them in touch with vital forces of creativity that cannot but upend settled patterns of thought and conduct.4

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The Evil Eye: On Apotropaic Horror

There is much to learn, boy. There are places other than here, and limits far beyond what anyone has even considered, nor dreamed of exploring.

—Matthew Bartlett,  The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities

In many ways modern horror fiction serves as an apotropaic charm to ward off the dark forces lurking both in the imagination and the world about us. Human imagination and the artistic impulse have from the beginning sought to control the deep fears and terrors of the unknown surrounding humans on all sides. From the cave paintings of Lascaux to the most daemonic art of the 21st Century the ability to visualize and capture the powers of darkness in an image thereby dispersing and warding off their destructive powers has been central to both painting and literary horror.

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Vastarien – A Literary Journal

cover-vol2-issue2_web

My essay Thomas Ligotti: The Radiant Abyss is featured in the latest Vastarien – A Literary Journal Volume 2 Issue 2 Summer edition: here! Get your copy today!

It also has many other contemporary horror writers, essayists, and artists:

Clematis, White and Purple
D. P. Watt

like crickets
Robin Gow

not other’s tongues
Robin Gow

types of knife blades:
Robin Gow

The Stringer of Wiltsburg Farm
Eden Royce

The Pelt
Christi Nogle

Silences
Lucy A. Snyder

Visions of the Gothic Body in Thomas Ligotti’s Short Stories
Deborah Bridle

Eyestalk
C. M. Crockford

Daddy’s Departure
Danielle Hark

The Sprite House
Trent Kollodge

Sirens in the Night
Paul L. Bates

Thomas Ligotti: The Abyss of Radiance
S. C. Hickman

The Milk Man
Alana I. Capria

Trans Woman Gutted
Valin Paige

What Found Nevaeh
Donyae Coles

art by Giuseppe Balestra, Tatiana Garmendia, and Danielle Hark (including cover art)

 

The Lost Cause

There is a place
that even dreams dare not go,
a vast labyrinth
where winds blow cold;
a time within time,
where thought still flows;
and the desperate mind unbinds
a broken world’s lost cause.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Anxiety, Disgust: The Sublime and Counter-Sublime of Ecstasy and Horror

Anxiety is an affective state and as such can, of course, only be felt by the ego. The id cannot have anxiety as the ego can; for it is not an organization and cannot make a judgement about situations of danger. On the other hand it very often happens that processes take place or begin to take place in the id which cause the ego to produce anxiety. Indeed, it is probable that the earliest repressions as well as most of the later ones are motivated by an ego-anxiety of this sort in regard to particular processes in the id. (Freud- The Complete Works)

Freud’s mythology of the inner workings of the psyche still fascinates, even if they were his own fictions of the mind just like Kant’s fictions and categories. Humans love to invent the fictive elements of what they do not comprehend, and then impose those fictions as “truth”. Religion did it before analytical psychology, just like in our current age we are inventing the neurosciences as the new truth of the psyche. Fictions supersede fictions from age to age under the critical gaze, because scholars cannot be satisfied with the previous generations fictive truths.

If one reads Freud as literature rather than psychology one can still gain insights, since his own work was an outgrowth of late decadent romanticism. The psyche as horror story, full of anxieties and defenses against the all powerful id (Outside). Sometimes one has to be inventive in one’s reading to develop theories of the Sublime and Counter-Sublime. The sublime begins in a primal repression and defense against a threat to the ego-self, one that would if known obliterate and annihilate it beyond recall. We see that in Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy where he traces this whole pessimistic history of the ego’s defensive measures against the truth into its cultural and religious determinations. Our need for mastery and self-divination and identity spawned the whole Romantic movement in poetry and literature that began during the Renaissance with the figure of the Magus and would culminate in the master-slave delusions of Hegel.

What I love about Bataille is that he would be one of the first to undermine this whole tradition with his dark surrealism and base materialism of decay, destruction, and annihilation of the ego-identity. Others would follow…

The cult of personality would culminate in the wit of Oscar Wilde who says, “The true artist is a man who believes absolutely in himself, because he is absolutely himself.” This cultivation of the ego-identity as supreme would have its counter-sublime in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray in which the very power of this ego-sublime would end in self-annihilation as the personality’s rejection of its own dark forces return with a vengeance as Dorian’s alter-self in the figure of the painting is destroyed, killing both self and its shadow in self-annihilation.

The whole decadent tradition of horror descends from the daemonic poetry of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Christabel” as Paglia reminds us: “The Decadent Late Romantic line of Poe, Baudelaire, Moreau, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Swinburne, Pater, Huysmans, Beardsley, and Wilde descends directly from Coleridge’s mystery poems.”1 Edgar Allan Poe would up the ante in his poetry and macabre tales spinning out the threads of those decadent figures from Coleridge’s imaginative vampires and sailors into weird tales that would haunt not only the American, but French Psyche for a hundred years or more. As Paglia puts it succinctly,

The French accused America of slighting her greatest poet in Poe, who may sound better in Baudelaire’s translation than in English. Poe, like Coleridge, is a giant of imagination, and imagination has its own laws. In Poe’s tales and Coleridge’s mystery poems, the daemonic expresses itself nakedly. Dionysus always shakes off rules of Apollonian form. (SP 322)

This sense of the Dionysian formlessness would be central to Georges Bataille’s reception of that whole decadent tradition which began with Baudelaire’s Poe. As Stephen S. Bush in his essay “Sovereignty and Cruelty Self-Affirmation, Self-Dissolution, and the Bataillean Subject” describes it:

Georges Bataille populates his writings with the imagery of torture and murder. His fiction revels in sexual assault. He speaks of evil as having a sovereign value for humanity. He speaks of there being intimacy between the sacrificers and the victims in human sacrificial rituals. He compares sex to human sacrifice. He describes himself meditating on photos of a man being dismembered and recounts his ecstatic experiences of joy and anguish in doing so, going so far as to call the wounded victim beautiful. He holds forth violation and transgression as things that reveal our true nature.2

One would imagine Bataille as the modern Sade, but he’s in fact just the opposite; whereas Sade would promote the ego and identity as supreme, Bataille would demote it and seek to dissolve it in the non-human or inhuman continuity of Dionysian natural flux. Bataille sees cruelty and violence as permanent aspects of the human condition. For Bataille there is both a fascination and repugnance at such shocks of cruelty, the one leading to self-affirmation while the other ends in self-negation. The shock of cruelty is also the shock of beholding individuals who are subject to no constraints, who obey no norms, no conventions, and no authorities other than themselves. (NE 47) So there’s this polarity between the Sadean self-affirmation of cruelty as gratification, and the Bataillean version as self-negation without pleasure which ends in dissolution and rupture, ecstasy and horror.

Bataille would provide an antagonistic counter-sublime to Andre Breton’s surrealist sublime, one that would shift the focus from utilitarian and political-social relations of the profane world of work to the sacred realms of ecstatic horror and darkness just beyond the confines of acceptable norms and normalcy. His was an entry into the nightmare lands of thought and being, exposing the naked self to a world where self-negation and self-affirmation lived in pure contradiction without resolution or recognition. A non-dialectical world of mystery and cruelty that few understand or condone. This was the realm of sovereignty and communication, intimacy and continuity with the inhuman core of our humanity.

What I disagree with in Bush’s essay is that he seeks to tame Bataille’s anti-social and anti-utilitarian diagnosis. He never mentions Durkheim’s sacred/profane dualism which underpins Bataille’s theories of religion, sovereignty, and communication. Instead he tries to bring Bataille back into the ethical and utilitarian fold, limiting Bataille’s vision to some erroneous estimation as a “thinker whose ethical position includes self-affirmation, not just self-effacement” (NE 50). For me the whole point of Bataille’s base materialism is an absolute non-dialectical vision of negation beyond the utilitarian world of work, politics, and desire. He seeks to guide us out of the discontinuous world of the ego-sublime and back into the continuous world of the inhuman; both natural and monstrous. If this entails doing violence to our self-pretentious civilized affirmations and ethics then for Bataille that is a price we should be willing to pay. As Bataille would say in his passionate narrative Inner Experience, “To face the impossible – exorbitant, indubitable – when nothing is possible any longer is in my eyes to have an experience of the divine; it is analogous to torment” (p.1).

From its beginnings in the literature of terror up to our own era of dark tales of horror, from the novels of King and Barker to the weird tales of Lovecraft and Ligotti, there is a deep and abiding sense that in the end cruelty and violence will prevail. Such an non-utilitarian and unethical conclusion of our existence can only be construed as pessimistic and nihilist. Living as we do in a decaying civilization teetering on the edge of implosion even as its leaders live in denial of the natural forces of climate change that in the end will not care one iota about our human wants and needs, our spurious denialism nor our political or social world of utility. The universe is as Lovecraft suggested over a century ago: “Contrary to what you may assume, I am not a pessimist but an indifferentist – that is, I don’t make the mistake of thinking that the… cosmos… gives a damn one way or the other about the especial wants and ultimate welfare of mosquitoes, rats, lice, dogs, men, horses, pterodactyls, trees, fungi, dodos, or other forms of biological energy.” Lovecraft thus embraced a philosophy of cosmic indifferentism. He believed in a meaningless, mechanical, and uncaring universe that human beings, with their naturally limited faculties, could never fully understand. His viewpoint made no allowance for religious beliefs which could not be supported scientifically. The incomprehensible, cosmic forces of his tales have as little regard for humanity as humans have for insects.

That the mechanistic world view has given way to the world of quantum forces changes nothing in that sense, and yet it opens possibilities that Lovecraft would have incorporated into that existing system of cosmic indifferentism without blinking an eye. Others like Thomas Ligotti would append to the objective view of cosmic indifferentism a more epistemic pessimism, fusing a dark surrealism of psyche and the immaterial forces of a malevolent cosmos rather than one wholly mechanical. In such a realm a new counter-sublime would arise in which fascination, allurements, and the repulsive would open up the world to an aesthetic of disgust and horror where sewers and ruins would replace paradise with an infernal garden of the frolic.

One such advocate of the darker folds of this ruinous world of disgust is Matthew M. Bartlett whose works are based on a sense of the macabre and grotesque worlds where the strong sense of disgust fascinates even as it repulses. The first thing that comes to mind in reading many of his stories is the aesthetic sense of disgust, and yet because it is based on a sense of aesthetic horror it does not nauseate so much as make us think and reflect rather than feel nauseous and repulsed. Because of our distance from the very real threat of touch, smell, and taste we can experience the allurements and dark revolting images at one remove, allow ourselves to vicariously participate in certain dark insights into human or non-human behavior that would otherwise send us packing. “Disgust affords a powerful means by which difficult truths are conveyed with maximum aesthetic impact.”3

Carolyn Korsmeyer in her book Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics informs us that “aesthetic disgust” is a response that, no matter how unpleasant, can rivet attention to the point where one actually may be said to savor the feeling. There are forms of disgust that fascinate and repulse at the same time. Most theoreticians will divide disgust between “material” and “moral” categories. It is material disgust that interest us in its horrific forms. Although much of the macabre and grotesque if filled with forms of disgust that many moralists would find repugnant and off-limits, its just this exposure to twisted sexual and sadistic behavior of the sick and mad creatures of horror that awaken that visceral and nauseous recoil that is the signature of this strong emotion.

Much more pertinent is what disgust forces upon us rather than our moral reaction to it. It exposes to us the wounds within us both mentally and physically, the human frailty and finitude of our situation in the world. Aesthetic disgust opens us to all those material processes that for the most part people shun and turn away from, such as sour milk, sewage, and slime; slugs, maggots, and lice; infected sores, gangrened flesh, and decomposing corpses. These things prompt unqualified visceral disgust and may include unpleasant involuntary responses, including the gag reflex, nausea, and even vomiting. But even if we do not reach the latter stages of reaction, the physical recoil of disgust is palpable.

What’s unique in horror stories is a certain distancing from the actual physical sense of such disgust, a more discursive and imaginative embrace of disgust as an aesthetic phenomenon rather than a literal enactment of it through our senses. Both in literature and film the reader/viewer is at one remove from the actual physical horrors such that they can experience such revolting scenes through the mind rather than the flesh. A vicarious rather than visceral partaking of this strong sensation. From Plato to Kristeva aesthetic disgust has fascinated us through its allure and aversion. Such concepts have imposed a sense of distancing that has formalized the aesthetics of horror by way of separating the senses of sight and hearing from the more visceral senses of touch, smell, and taste. Both in literature and film we apprehend disgust through our eyes and ears rather than experiencing it in its obtrusive immediacy through these other strong senses. It’s this ability to observe and listen that allows us to aesthetically appreciate what otherwise would nauseate and repulse us to the point of physical sickness.

Are we fearful of the ugly truth? Is it too disgusting to approach? Why hide from this monstrous existence? Shouldn’t we follow those before us? Aurel Kolnai’s long essay “Disgust” from 1929, the first dedicated philosophical study of this emotion; William Ian Miller’s Anatomy of Disgust (1997); and Winfried Menninghaus’s compendious Disgust: The Theory and History of a Strong Sensation (2003). It bears affinity with certain theoretical applications such as Martha Nussbaum’s Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004) and Julia Kristeva’s examination of the abject in The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982), as well as the many analyses of the disgusting in art such as Robert Rawdon Wilson’s The Hydra’s Tale: Imagining Disgust (2002). Carole Talon-Hugon’s Gout et degoit: L’art peut-il tout montrer?

After I finish rereading Matthew’s works I’ll post a more lengthy review on my site. This was only a preamble to show the importance of this type of horror and why we need it more than ever. I’m working through Gateway to Abomination, Creeping Waves, and his latest – Stay Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities.


  1. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 320). Yale University Press.
  2. Biles, Jeremy (Editor),  Brintnall, Kent L. (Editor). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy). Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)
  3. Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 17, 2011)

Brian Evenson: Song for the Unraveling of the World

If reason is not a chimera, then it must resolve this problem: how to disengage, amid the factual beings given in experience, that which, adequate to beings as such, is not itself contingent?

—Quentin Meillassoux

CaptureWhat if our life was a mere shadow of a Greater Nightmare, and we but the enactment of its dark intentions? That we are a contradiction, a veritable alien thing amid the sleep walkers of this planetary realm of organic madness is apparent to almost anyone with a inkling of intelligence. Yet, there are those who wander through life as if it were perfectly normal, that it was all planned out ahead of time, each of us a mere particle or semblance of some indefinable blueprint long ago bargained for in the distant reaches of the pre-cosmic abyss. Others seeking only the safety net of security and certitude have fallen into cages of religion or philosophy that offer certain consolations and deliverances from the absolute contingency of the world, believing they can master and control their destinies with Reason and Knowledge. Like shadows in a timeless void we pretend we are real when in truth we are not even unreal, but mere allusions and echoes of some former realm that has all but been shattered by the cosmic catastrophe within which we find ourselves. A speculative thinker of our era, Quentin Meillassoux terms this absolute contingency – within which we move and have our being, a hyper-chaos; or, as he puts it “absolute time” itself. As he states it:

What do I mean by this term? To say that the absolute is time, or chaos, seems very trite, very banal. But the time we discover here is, as I said, a very special time: not a physical time, not an ordinary chaos. Hyper-chaos is very different from what we call usually “chaos”. By chaos we usually mean disorder, randomness, the eternal becoming of everything. But these properties are not properties of Hyper-Chaos: its contingency is so radical that even becoming, disorder, or randomness can be destroyed by it, and replaced by order, determinism, and fixity. Things are so contingent in Hyper-chaos, that time is able to destroy even the becoming of things. (Time Without Becoming 25)

This notion of time being able to destroy the becoming of things reflects the strangeness I find in a series of tales in Brian Evenson’s new collection Song for the Unraveling of the World. 

In the title tale of the Evenson’s collection we discover a Father whose five year old daughter has gone missing. The details of the story are simple and bare: the father has kidnapped his own daughter from his (ex?) wife, brought her to a safety-house (or, so he thinks!), provided her with toys, dolls, and all the possible comforts he could. He falls asleep listening to a song he assumes she is singing herself to sleep by through the thin wall between their rooms. He awakens to find her gone, her room secured from the outside; her bed and room strangely unused and a circle of her new things distributed around the bed like some unusual ritual had been performed with her as the star attraction. He searches the home, then the neighborhood, bars, the town… he finds nothing, nothing at all. He calls his ex-wife and discovers she does not have the daughter. He sits down again in his home and stares at a tv broadcasting only pure static as if from some alternate reality. As he thinks to himself:

It had not been his fault, he told himself. Sometimes things just happen and you can’t do anything about them. Just as with the scar on Dani’s temple—that had not been, when you considered it logically, his fault. It had simply been bad luck. (SUW 32-33)

We discover that he’d taken the daughter without thought, it had been a mistake, but that now that he had he’d built a safe haven against the very real world of Law and Society, against the powers of reality. He’d lived in his home with his daughter as if in a pure zone of freedom. He’d bolted the doors, boarded up the windows, isolated himself and his daughter from the world. For a year he lived this way as if that might just be enough time to escape the real burden of his choices. But that was all over now, his hopes of return, of redemption, of his wife’s forgiveness, of living ever happily after with his daughter. All gone.

And then the song started up again, the song from his daughter’s room, a strange and disquieting song in a language not quite of this world. He carefully pries open the door hoping to find here there, but finds nothing, nothing at all. He asks himself the question: “What does it mean to me?” He’s broken the ritual circle, laid down on his daughter’s bed, listening, thinking, hoping against hope that she will return: “He lay there, trying to feel some sign of his daughter’s presence. All he could feel was his own ungainly self.” (SUW 35)

As he is laying there contemplating the past, present, and possibilities of a future he will again as: “What does it mean to me?” This repetition without an answer of a question of meaning in a meaningless universe brings us back to that notion of absolute contingency. As Drago thinks to himself:

What does it mean to be me? He had lived, it seemed to him, several lives, and when he strung them together they didn’t seem to make any kind of chain. Whatever continuity was supposed to be there seemed to have dissolved and he didn’t know how to get it back. Even in just the last two years, there had been a life where he and his wife had been together and had been happy, followed by a life where he had been alone and miserable, followed by a life with just him and his daughter, followed by this life now, the one that was now beginning. What did it all add up to? Nothing. Merely four separate existences. He wasn’t the same person in any of them. Or rather, in the first three he was three different people. For this life, the newest one, it was still too early to say what, if anything, he was. (SUW 35-36)

As if his life were itself a series of disjunctive episodes that did not connect or touch each other, as if each time-frame were part of some strange world of pure contingency without rhyme or reason; a world where time had suddenly become destructive, a power of ruin and erosion, entropy and decay, as if time were unraveling all around him. As if whatever we are as persons were not what we thought we were, but something else; and that nothing we’d been told about the continuity of self and world were true at all, as if the facticity of the world had suddenly vanished into thin air and been replaced by some strange form of hyper-chaos.

Late that night he awakens and sees his daughter just beyond the ritual circle, groggily he rises up and tries to reach her but is bound to the inside of the circle like a demon:

When he got out of bed and moved toward her, he found he could not cross the border of the circle. As if I’m a demon, he thought. He prowled along inside the circle, edging around the bed, looking for a way out. But there was no way out. (SUW 36)

In ritual magic such a space is a circle (or sphere, field) of space marked out by practitioners to contain energy and form a sacred space, or provide them a form of magical protection from demons or other alien entities.

Drago watches his daughter from within the circle, and she watches him in silence for a long while. Then she rises up and leaves him there without a word being exchanged. After she leaves the spell that kept him bound to the inside of the circle is broken, and he follows her down the stair. Suddenly everything changes, the front door shatters, two detectives and his wife enter and accuse him of atrocities unimaginable. His wife crying, clawing at him through the window, begging him to tell her what he’s done to their daughter. And just as he’s about to understand just what he doesn’t know and will never know…  he wakes up.

Most of us think the world is a safe place, a haven against the cosmic night of horror lurking just outside our green, green earth. We think we can master and control the forces of horror arrayed against us, dispel the darkness of the unknown with the wand of reason and science. Then something happens to disturb this illusion, something inexplicable happens to us or a loved one, something that we cannot explain with either rational thought or those so carefully tended notions of common sense and the pragmatic truth of what we’ve known as reality. We begin to question ourselves and the world, suspecting either something has gone wrong with our minds or that the world has shifted into a darker and more mysterious zone. We begin to look around us and question the very nature of our lives and of those we took to be our friends. Paranoia sets in and we begin to fear that something is wrong with the world in ways it never was before. It’s this sense of things being a little off that these tales of Brian reveal with such simple prose. A prosaic world that moves along as if everything is normal then suddenly veers off into strange zones of being we never knew existed before.

Brian’s tales lead us into those alcoves of nightmare that we’ve hidden from ourselves all these years. Dark recesses of being that open out onto that Greater Nightmare where anything is possible, and will at one time or another probably happen. It’s a realm where the very nature of our self-identity begins to unravel, a realm in which the world you’ve known suddenly dissolves and another more sinister one is revealed. For far too long we’ve allowed ourselves to live comfortable lives in our illusory realms of as if, telling ourselves that our shared world of work and play is the only world. It is not. There is another realm waiting in the wings, between the cracks and seams, just outside our normal awareness that at any moment may just pull the blinkers off your eyes and reveal itself for what it is. You cannot hide from it, you cannot run from it, it is this world we all share seen with other eyes than the one’s you’ve allowed to be shaped by normalcy. It is the real world, a world of horror and ecstasy situated no where more central than in your own sleeping mind. It is the nightmare land where your real life begins, a monstrous life that only now you begin to understand and realize is the only ever life you ever had and will be without end.

Brian’s tales open portals into and out of that nightmare land. Each tale giving a glimpse of its strange manifestations, hinting at more than revealing. Tales that shift from time-present to time-past, else into sidereal zones of being that seem to exist in some parallel time world just this side of hell. Vampyres in the western lands; skin-changers in some New York boutique; aliens from inter-dimensional chaos whose only telling mark is to leave us faceless; murderous psychopaths; secret sharers of darkness and change; the friendly next-door cannibal family;  paranoid filmmaker’s who discover unbidden truths; holes in deep space that harbor inhuman mysteries… the litany of horrors like a kaleidoscope revolve round and round in this collection leading the wary reader into realms where the mind begins to literally unravel and begin to dissolve in the darkness of inescapable abysses. This is Brian Evenson’s world of terror and beauty where anything can happen and most likely will…

There is more to tale I related, but I’m not going to reveal that to you just now. Not now, not ever; for that you must read it yourself. But I can assure you this that each of the tales in this collection is like a song in that unraveling world of time that is hyper-chaos, a realm in which all continuity is gone, a realm in which every facet of existence is unraveling in a song of horror and delight. These are tales of that Greater Nightmare that surrounds us on all sides, a realm that we block out through our security blankets of culture and civilization. We believe ourselves immune to it through the perfect illusions we’ve created for ourselves, our normal dreamtime of comforting day worlds of work and play. But it is not true, just the other side our normal lives is an infernal region of absolute contingency that sooner or later will begin playing its song for you, too. And when it does your world will begin unraveling in into that Greater Nightmare carnival of existence… a realm of absolute contingency in which anything can happen and most assuredly will happen to you.

Enjoy the ride!


You can find Brian Evenson on his blog: https://brianevenson.com/

And his new collection on Amazon: Song for the Unraveling of the World

 

 

Even As Night Comes

Even as night comes and darkness folds its black wings across the earth
I feel that pull down among the secret hollows,
the enfolding hands of willows bending, swaying;
a breeze flowing round the mounds and rocks,
the waters of the waters sinking out of sight;
stars blinking into those darkening shoals,
while the afterglow of that ancient star
filters the last remnants of those twilight hues…

Sitting here amid my ruins, memories and silences.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Thomas Ligotti’s Dark Gnosis

Many people in this world are always looking to science to save them from something. But just as many, or more, prefer old and reputable belief systems and their sectarian offshoots for salvation. So they trust in the deity of the Old Testament, an incontinent dotard who soiled Himself and the universe with His corruption, a low-budget divinity passing itself off as the genuine article. (Ask the Gnostics.)

Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race

We have long since been denizens of the natural world. Everywhere around us are natural habitats, but within us is the shiver of startling and dreadful things. Simply put: We are not from here. If we vanished tomorrow, no organism on this planet would miss us. Nothing in nature needs us. We are like Mainländer’s suicidal God. Nothing needed Him either, and His uselessness was transferred to us after He burst out of existence. We have no business being in this world. We move among living things, all those natural puppets with nothing in their heads. But our heads are in another place, a world apart where all the puppets exist not in the midst of life but outside it. We are those puppets, those human puppets. We are crazed mimics of the natural prowling about for a peace that will never be ours. And the medium in which we circulate is that of the supernatural, a dusky element of horror that obtains for those who believe in what should be and should not be. This is our secret quarter. This is where we rave with insanity on the level of metaphysics, fracturing reality and breaking the laws of life.

Deviations from the natural have whirled around us all our days. We kept them at arm’s length, abnormalities we denied were elemental to our being. But absent us there is nothing of the supernatural in the universe. We are aberrations— beings born undead, neither one thing nor another, or two things at once … uncanny things that have nothing to do with the rest of creation, horrors that poison the world by sowing our madness everywhere we go, glutting daylight and darkness with incorporeal obscenities. From across an immeasurable divide, we brought the supernatural into all that is manifest. Like a faint haze it floats around us. We keep company with ghosts. Their graves are marked in our minds, and they will never be disinterred from the cemeteries of our remembrance. Our heartbeats are numbered, our steps counted. Even as we survive and reproduce, we know ourselves to be dying in a dark corner of infinity. Wherever we go, we know not what expects our arrival but only that it is there.1

Extreme forms of pessimism like Ligotti’s above come very close to the ancient 2nd Century forms of Gnosticism with its anti-cosmic hatred of the universe of suffering and decay.

To sum up the essential position of the Gnostics in still simpler terms, let us say that in their eyes the evil which taints the whole of creation and alienates man in body, mind, and soul, deprives him of the awareness necessary for his own salvation. Man, the shadow of man, possesses only a shadow of consciousness. And it is to this one task that the Gnostics of the first centuries AD deliberately devoted themselves, choosing paths which were not only unorthodox but which, moreover, greatly scandalized their contemporaries: to create in man a true consciousness, which would permit him to impart to his thoughts and deeds the permanence and the rigour necessary to cast off the shackles of this world. (The Gnostics by Jacques Lacarriere)

Ligotti has mentioned the use of Gnostic themes in his works, and yet he stops short of accepting their notion of the Alien Stranger God out beyond the rims of the Real. For Ligotti like most pessimists this is it, there is no other existence beyond this immanent realm of terror and fascination. Viscerally, imperiously, irremissibly, the Gnostic feels life, thought, human and planetary destiny to be a failed work, limited and vitiated in its most fundamental structures. Everything, from the distant stars to the nuclei of our body-cells, carries the materially demonstrable trace of an original imperfection which only Gnosticism and the means it proposes can combat. Asked by an interviewer whether the tenets and philosophy/ cosmology of the early Gnostic cults had any influence upon his thinking, and/ or writing. He replied:

I liked the Gnostics because they cursed the same things I’ve cursed: the Boss of the Bible, the ways of the world, and so on. Of course, they always had their own absentee Boss way out there beyond contemplation or criticism, and I could never follow them to that place.

—Triangulating the Daemon An Interview with Thomas Ligotti Interview by R. F. Paul and Keith Schurholz

Ligotti’s message is similar to the Gnostics (as he states above) but withdraws from accepting any form of soteriological redemption or resurrection as suggested by the Gnostics, who for their part believed there was an uncreated spark that had been trapped in the vessels or jars of existence by the malevolent Demiurge from the foundations of the world. The Gnostics believed this spark could be awakened out of its zombie like sleep in existence and begin its long ascent back to the great Outside of the uncreated Abyss. Ligotti believed this was one more hopeful and optimistic dream of escape, and even though it might be a beautiful vision was like everything else a failed promise that did not fulfill its goal of releasing humanity from suffering. Ligotti offers no such hope, only the stark truth that we are doomed to a final extinction from which their will be no redemption, no resurrection: only an end to things in an entropic night of darkness without end or consolation.


  1.  Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 221-222). Hippocampus Press.

Weird Fiction and Pessimism

Why Weird Fiction is a better vehicle for Pessimism than philosophy:

Weird fiction often spurns more rationalistic and normalized narrative types of creation and fulfillment, seizing instead on the nonrational structures of dreams and hallucinations, exploiting the episodic rather than the logically continuous. Weird fiction overcomes isolation because its pessimism is hazy, inducing the reader into a dreamlike state where reality and narrative blur and pessimism slowly intrudes into the edges of consciousness. As Ligotti says, “Everything that happens in every story ever written is merely an event in someone’s imagination—exactly as are dreams, which take place on their own little plane of unreality, a realm of nowhere in which outside and inside are of equivalent ontological status.”1 The notion here is in some ways similar to the old post-structuralist “nothing outside the text,” but with one caveat, for Ligotti the polarities of unreal/real have exchanged places and the inside is outside and it is all nightmare. The point here is like the ancient Gnostics the world is malevolent through and through, and there is no escape from this nightmare land. Weird fiction in portraying this nightmare uses a rhetorical strategy that softens the blow of extreme pessimism allowing the reader to feel the subtle truth of our horrific situation without being too explicit, entertaining the reader while instructing her in the dark ways of our ontological status.


  1. Carl T. Ford, “Interview with Thomas Ligotti,” in Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti, ed. Matt Cardin (Burton, Mich.: Subterranean Press, 2014), 22.

The Conspiracy Against Pessimism

 

What I mean to say is that to inhabit my landscapes one must, in no figurative sense, grow into them.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Strange Design of Master Rignolo

If the world is so terrible that human extinction is desirable, so the thinking goes, then why do so many people seem fine with being alive—some of which are themselves, presumably, pessimists? Pessimists provide a variety of answers to this question. Schopenhauer posits an almost metaphysical “will-to-live,” which he thinks overcomes human judgment and bends us to the purpose of extending life. Cioran explains humanity’s generally pro-life (or at least nonextinctionist) views in a variety of ways, from general naiveté to the prominence of Hegelian ideas about progress. Some even lay the blame on evolution, arguing that as a means of facilitating propagation, natural selection has resulted in certain adaptive psychological mutations that prevent an accurate evaluation of the world’s terror. Still another recurrent explanation pessimists give for their small number is that society, culture, and even language itself work to obscure the grim reality of the world. Crawford, for instance, argues that society enacts “self-delusion” through cult-like brainwashing; Benatar describes these forces as an incorrect “paradigm,” one that biases individuals toward life, applies “peer” and “social pressure” to reproduce, and “pathologiz[es]” pessimism. Anticipating Crawford and Benatar, Zapffe similarly argues that “most people manage to save themselves by artificially paring down their consciousness.” Perry simply claims that people tend to agree with those around them and since most people are not pessimists, pessimism as a specific cultural meme has a difficult time gaining a foothold.

Whereas Ligotti describes such counterpessimistic forces as a “conspiracy,” Michelstaedter refers to them as “rhetoric,” arguing that rhetoric as a structure of thought displays any number of anti-pessimistic, or optimistic, biases.

—Joseph Packer, A Feeling of Wrongness

I Turn Away To Shadows

 

I turn away to shadows formed
across this jagged world of storms,
where mountain bones jut up
hungered by the day’s long sun—

it’s cold eye bleeding down
like some old malformed thing;
unblinking, distant— alone.
Unknowing of its destiny

it moves to hidden forces;
and they alone shape
formless horrors in the mind;
seductions from some other clime.

Back to earth’s green tomb
it all goes unnoticed as it should,
the pulsing life of each broken thing:
striving, warring, moving round;

each unknowing of the other’s wound,
each unfolding in a dreamless  sleep;
till night, moon, stars, and time
revolve within this darkness without sound.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Aesthetics of Ugliness

To think that another person shared my love for the icy bleakness of things.
—Thomas Ligotti

Great investigators of the heart have plunged into the frightful abyss of evil and have represented the awful forms that confronted them in its night. Great poets like Dante have further sketched these shapes; painters like Orcagna, Michelangelo, Rubens, and [Peter] Cornelius have given them sensuous presence, and musicians like [Ludwig] Spohr have allowed us to hear the dreadful tones of perdition, through which evil screeches and howls the conflict of its torn spirit. Hell is not simply ethico-religious, it is also aesthetic. We stand in the midst of evil and general wickedness, but also in the midst of ugliness. The fright of non-form and the deformed, of vulgarity and atrociousness, surround us in endless shapes, ranging in dimensions from the pygmy to those giant distortions out of which infernal evil grins at us, baring its teeth. It is into this hell of the beautiful that we wish to descend. But descent is impossible without also gaining admittance into the real hell, the hell of evil, since the ugliest ugliness is not that which in nature repels us in swamps, crippled trees, newts and toads, in gaping sea monster jaws and massive pachyderms, in rats and apes; it is the selfishness that reveals itself in spiteful and frivolous gestures, in the furrows of passion, in crooked glances and—in crime.

—Karl Rosenkranz, Aesthetics of Ugliness

Mist, Fog, and Light: The Spectral World

True macabrists are as rare as poets and form a secret society by the bad-standing of their memberships elsewhere, some of their outside affiliations having been cancelled as early as birth.

Mist on a lake, fog in thick woods, a golden light shining on wet stones—such sights make it all very easy. Something lives in the lake, rustles through the woods, inhabits the stones or the earth beneath them. Whatever it may be, this something lies just out of sight, but not out of vision for the eyes that never blink. In the right surroundings our entire being is made of eyes that dilate to witness the haunting of the universe. But really, do the right surroundings have to be so obvious in their spectral atmosphere?

Just a little doubt slipped into the mind, a little trickle of suspicion in the bloodstream, and all those eyes of ours, one by one, open up to the world and see its horror. Then: no belief or body of laws will guard you; no friend, no counselor, no appointed personage will save you; no locked door will protect you; no private office will hide you. Not even the solar brilliance of a summer day will harbor you from horror. For horror eats the light and digests it into darkness.

We are destined to a fool’s fate that deserves to be mocked. And since there is no one else around to do the mocking, we will take on the job. So let us indulge in cruel pleasures against ourselves and our pretensions, let us delight in the Cosmic Macabre. At least we may send up a few bitter laughs into the cobwebbed corners of this crusty old universe.

—Thomas Ligotti, Songs of a Dead Dreamer

Deleuze On Francis Bacon

 

Francis Bacon’s painting is of a very special violence. Bacon, to be sure, often traffics in the violence of a depicted scene: spectacles of horror, crucifixions, prostheses and mutilations, monsters. But these are overly facile detours, detours that the artist himself judges severely and condemns in his work. What directly interests him is a violence that is involved only with color and line: the violence of a sensation (and not of a representation), a static or potential violence, a violence of reaction and expression. For example, a scream rent from us by a foreboding of invisible forces: “to paint the scream more than the horror…” In the end, Bacon’s Figures are not racked bodies at all, but ordinary bodies in ordinary situations of constraint and discomfort. A man ordered to sit still for hours on a narrow stool is bound to assume contorted postures. The violence of a hiccup, of the urge to vomit, but also of a hysterical, involuntary smile Bacon’s bodies, heads, Figures are made of flesh, and what fascinates him are the invisible forces that model flesh or shake it. This is the relationship not of form and matter, but of materials and forces making these forces visible through their effects on the flesh. There is, before anything else, a force of inertia that is of the flesh itself: with Bacon, the flesh, however firm, descends from the bones; it falls or tends to fall away from them (hence those flattened sleepers who keep one arm raised, or the raised thighs from which the flesh seems to cascade). What fascinates Bacon is not movement, but its effect on an immobile body: heads whipped by the wind or deformed by an aspiration, but also all the interior forces that climb through the flesh. To make the spasm visible. The entire body becomes plexus. If there is feeling in Bacon, it is not a taste for horror, it is pity, an intense pity: pity for the flesh, including the flesh of dead animals…

—Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation

The Nightmare of History

The Great Transition:

Breakthrough or Breakdown?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two tendencies in critical horror…


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

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

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

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

The Challenge of Horror: The Fragility of Existence

 

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

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

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Bone Turned Stone

There is nothing forgiving here
but stones and wind,
and they have no prayers;
just the bleak truth of emptiness
and a great void.

People bypass this strange mass
of stone, unknowing of its past,
when oceans massed the great heights,
and sands beached the whales dark plight;
for this is the place of the nameless dead,
mighty sea-wanderers who long fled
below these dark skies, now exposed
on this bright peak like white bleeders
on the run, their white-capped runners
spewing foam.

This is no children’s tale, no human gazed
upon this marred gnarl of twisted pain:
formlessness displayed, and living flesh calcified.
Time, the giver and taker who never blinks,
always sees fraught this bare scene in dark days.
I’d come here with a friend, unbelieving
in such things, till gaze shot home —
bones turned stone in these snarled-toothed giants.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Horror Story of Climate Denialism

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

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


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

Andy Clark on the Predictive Mind:

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

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

Robert Trivers in Deceit and Self-Deception will ask:

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

His answer:

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

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

Articulating the Impossible: Horror as Communication


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Loneliness and Solitude: The Solitaire’s Way

What begins as a solitary truth soon proliferates like malignant cells in the body of a dream, a body whose true outline remains unknown. Perhaps, then, we should be grateful to the whims of chemistry, the caprices of circumstance, and the enigmas of personal taste for giving us such an array of strictly local realities and desires.

—Thomas Ligotti, Songs of a Dead Dreamer

In many ways loneliness and being alone have such differing connotations. Being a solitaire and for the most part a reclusive creature who likes being alone I hardly ever feel lonely. Of course being more of a manic/depressive with schizoid tendencies I keep myself company very well with books, music, TV, movies, writing, painting, etc…. all the distractions of entertainment that most have access too; and, yet, there are the times in-between, the silences of solitude – of walks, meditation, and just vegetating as an isolated organic being: these, too, are part of a solitaires existence and to be relished rather than feared. To me it’s crowds and noise and the excess of intimacy of others surrounding one that is the true loneliness. Can one ever truly know another? And, the impossibility of being alone in a crowd is for a solitaire the most frightening thing in the world.

Long before they created all these various drugs for such disorders I learned to move with the swings from pole to pole of emotion, using both the manic mercurial upswings toward my satirical and sardonic escapades, while allowing the downturn into the dark abyss of the depressive cycle to tempt out the demons below the threshold of my creativity to come through. In this way I learned to balance my emotional turmoil’s creatively rather than destructively. Admitting that this was not always the case, and as a young man I was always self-destructive during my various moods; both manic and depressive. I hate that term bi-polar disorder, so clinical and objective as if we were caged specimens in some zoo of medical knowledge rather than creatures whose physical systems just seemed to go haywire. But then again I wonder about that, too; for the simple reason that my ability to ride the waves of these cycles has led me to some very extreme creative episodes that otherwise would have never happened if I’d of been a so-to-speak normal being.

To be normal is a terrible thing, to be part of some collective appraisal, living out one’s life in the monotony of an emotive state of civilizational equanimity. The sleepwalkers of normalcy shall never know the extremes of emotive existence: the intensity of summer and winter, cold and heat, rage and fury in the pursuit of that creative fire that unleashes bouts of strangeness, ecstasy, and horror. For better or worse we who have been stricken with the dark touch of those blasted fires of the infernal regions know without a doubt what it means to live on the edge of oblivion. Some never survive it crawling back into the dark recesses of their security blankets of futility and desperation, others enter its pain with eyes open and fearless of what may come next.

The Truth of Horror

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

—Thomas Ligotti, The Consolations of Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ego-Death: Subtracting the Self from the Equation?

“ In the beast, suffering is self-confined; in man, it knocks holes into a fear of the world and a despair of life.” —Peter Wessel Zapffe

Since the conclusion of pessimism is that consciousness is the culprit of all our woes, I’ve often wondered why we don’t spend all our efforts on eliding it. Since all the major religions on the planet were systems of ego-death ritual and hygiene, and obviously they only worked for a very few isn’t it time to provide a more scientific path to subtraction of self? Isn’t this really what Badiou is getting at after all? Even Zizek would subtract nothing from nothing getting less than nothing… are we not after all just a bunch of othings? Even all these speculative realists have sought ways out of this quandary of self-referential insanity, and have found none… so maybe philosophy is at a dead end and the sciences should just put an end to this thing, this in plain site nothing we term consciousness? What would it be like to have a planetary melt-down of consciousness? Eliminating the planetary #1 criminal from the fabric of existence? Instead we just continue to wonder what consciousness is rather than eliminating it altogether… hell we even want our advance AI robots to be conscious and self-aware as we are… why impose consciousness on a machine when we know it is at the core of our human misery? Tell me…. ? Would you knowingly bring into existence the very thing that produces misery in our own lives and give it to somethin not human as if it were a gift rather than a costly mistake?

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Sonic Horrorism: Unsound/Undead Musical War – A Sonic-Fiction

“One of the focuses of the unit is to investigate deceptive frequency-based strategies, technologies, and programmes developed by military organizations to orchestrate phenomena of tactical haunting within conflict zones. They claim that this ‘martial hauntology’ is a subset of an overarching weaponisation of vibration. Their ongoing experiments have been concerned with the field of peripheral sonic perception—what they have dubbed ‘Unsound’.”

—From AUDINT—Unsound:Undead (Urbanomic / Art Editions)

Sonic warfare will create the haunted technoscapes of the future, soundworlds of decay and destruction leading humans to a joyous omnicide at the hands of their own music. As in the days of old when the great whales of the oceans followed the ley lines of their magnetic folds into the beached wonders of serene suicide, so will humanity under the hauntology of sonic catastrophe ride the musical chaos between silences into the deadly infernal of self-lacerating annihilation.

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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

Fantastic Homelessness: Sacrifice, Violence, and the Aesthetics of Horror

He was merely the inheritor of lost images; he was their resurrector, their invoker, their medium, and under his careful eye and steady hand there took place a mingling of artistic forms, their disparate anatomies tumbling out of the years to create the nightmare of his art.1 —Thomas Ligotti, The Troubles of Dr. Thoss

The best horror never reconciles us with the world or ourselves, but rather leads us to that irreconcilable moment when self and world enter into a third movement in which both are destabilized by the violence of the impossible . Moving in that sphere of pure contradiction that neither lifts one up to the sublime, nor pulls one down into the abyss of abject negativity these authors of the weird offer us what John Keats in a letter to his brother John described as Negative Capability:

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To the Emissaries of Hope: There is None…

No thanks, I think we’ve done enough to change the climate already! Why corrupt it more? It’s on its on now and could care less about our petty political squabbles: the Universe has an agenda of its own that no longer includes humans, if it ever did. We’re just one more failed effort in the struggle for survival and propagation, a vanishing species whose time for niche transgression has overstretched its welcome. The absolute indifference of the Universe is obvious to those who have eyes to see, and ears to hear; yet, so many optimists seek to create a different more hopeful narrative as if the Universe was the mere footprint of some anachronistic God whose eternal verdict is an Apocalypse awaiting its final end game. Such myths will go by the wayside like all myths have, emptied of their message as of their emissaries…