Thomas Ligotti: The Red Tower

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

—Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of this Ligotti will remind us that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or, as Ligotti’s interlocutor says in summation:

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

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


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

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

Unimaginable-Surreal-Artworks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B:  Say what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to research:

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Dark Gnosis of our Malignant Uselessness

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

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

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


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

 

The Suicide Machine

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Thomas Ligotti: Dark Phenomenology and Abstract Horror

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

-Thomas Ligotti

Dark Phenonmenology and the Daemonic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thomas Ligotti: The Vignettes of Horror

There really is no way to escape being pulled into the machine of human existence.
……– Thomas Ligotti

Julia Kristeva would once describe abject horror as that strange power in which “the twisted braid of affects and thoughts I call by such a name does not have, properly speaking, a definable object“:

There looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable. It lies there, quite close, but it cannot be assimilated. It beseeches, worries, and fascinates desire, which, nevertheless, does not let itself be seduced. Apprehensive, desire turns aside; sickened, it rejects. A certainty protects it from the shameful—a certainty of which it is proud holds on to it. But simultaneously, just the same, that impetus, that spasm, that leap is drawn toward an elsewhere as tempting as it is condemned. Unflaggingly, like an inescapable boomerang, a vortex of summons and repulsion places the one haunted by it literally beside himself.1

In his short story collection Noctuary Thomas Ligotti explores in a series of vignettes certain of his well known themes, in a literary form that one would almost be tempted to call prose poems of abjectness – if it were not their seeming mixture and blend of the mundane and fantastic which brings shock rather than aesthetic distance and repulsion; rather, these vignettes bring one closer to that realm of  jouissance wherein the delights of some infernal paradise, alluring us deeper into its contorted and twisted environs rather than frightening us into some stupor of pure abjectness. These short fragments seem to float out of some infernal region of mind or the Real where we begin to glimpse unfathomable adventures in daemonic delight and jouissance calibrated to twist our being beyond recognition and deliver us to the demons of our own darker nature. In one of his interviews he’ll remind us that Lovecraft’s fiction can be attributed to a certain “adventurous expectancy” that ultimately has its “origin in something terrible, and not the child’s picture-book wonderland you find in the work of a lot of writers of fantastic fiction”.2 Lovecraft himself, expanding on this very notion in his  Notes on Writing Weird Fiction says:

My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature. I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear. The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.

This sense of needing to create “nature-defying illusions” out of one’s deepest cosmic fears as an apotropaic charm against the shattered worlds of natural law and cosmic alienage loom deep within both Ligotti and Lovecraft. As Ligotti will tell it in that same interview: “My focus has fairly consistently been on what I have thought of as an “infernal paradise,” a realm where one wallows in something putrid and corrosive that lies beyond exact perception.” For Ligotti our everyday lives are built of illusions that hide or defend us from the truth of that darker lair of corruption so vividly emerging during out nighttime visitations. We’ve built up a screen against the truth of this infernal paradise. For most of us it only appears when things go wrong, when the everyday semblance of reality breaks down, and we seem to see flashes of the irrational realms surrounding us flare up in ordinary objects that seem to take on a life of their own.

In the short vignette The Spectral Estate he’ll describe an ordinary home in delicate tones that shatter us into this infernal paradise:

Every object and surface of the house seems darkly vibrant, a medium for distant agitations which are felt but not always seen or heard: dusty chandeliers send a stirring through the air above, walls ripple within patterns of raised filigree, grimy portraits shudder inside their gilded frames. And even if the light throughout much of the house has grown stale and become a sepia haze, it nevertheless remains a haze in ferment, a fidgeting aura that envelops this museum of tremulous antiquities.3

This “fidgeting aura” seems to explode with hidden powers seeping out of some gap in reality. What’s always fascinating in both writers is that they try desperately to make the invisible visible, to let what seems dark and foreboding within each particular object surface and reveal itself in all its negative energy. I remember Graham Harman deriding the empiricists whose reliance on sense would as he says lead them to “hold that we encounter individual qualities and then link them together through the gullible myth of an underlying thing”. 3 Instead he’d opt for the phenomenological idealism of Husserl and his heirs, saying they “more on the mark in saying that we first confront the calliope as a whole, so that the eerie underlying style of the object imbues all of the isolated songs and notes that emanate from it” (CP, 35).

So when I read those sentences by Ligotti telling us that one “may not believe there is an exchange of influence between the house and the world around it. And still there is a presence that pervades each as though there were no walls to divide them” (ibid., KL 2220), I feel the uncanny suddenly jut up in such descriptions. As Freud in his famous essay on The Uncanny iterates, the “uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar”.4 In fact he’d see in this concept a “compulsion powerful enough to overrule the pleasure principle, lending to certain aspects of the mind their daemonic character”: the compulsion to repeat (ibid. KL 87590).

Do we not sense this compulsion as the force or presence that appears hidden, yet influencing things in and between the house and the world? As Ligotti describes it:

From the moment one arrives at such a house there seems to be something moving in the background of its scenes, a hidden company whose nature is unknown. No true peace can establish itself in these rooms, however long they have remained alone with their own emptiness, abandoned to lie dormant and dreamless. Throughout the most innocent mornings and unclouded afternoons there endures a kind of restless pulling at appearances, an awkward or expert fussing with the facade of objects. In the night a tide of shadows invades the house, submerging its rooms in a darkness which allows a greater freedom to these fitful maneuverings. (ibid. KL 2222)

This is a world unknown and antagonistic, a realm of the void where things exist in dormancy, lying fallow in a dreamless world just beyond the senses, yet effecting things nonetheless. “The gap that separates beauty from ugliness,” Zizek writes in The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime , “is the very gap that separates reality from the Real: what constitutes reality is the minimum of idealization the subject needs in order to sustain the horror of the Real.” Ligotti will admit in the interview: “I was a pathological Catholic as a child, and one might make a connection between my early life and my later writings on that basis.” How many writers of the decadent movement that influenced much of Ligotti’s work were either Catholics (Huysmans), or atheists who’d been raised Catholic (Baudelaire). I think of  many of those French Intellectuals who would influence our postmodernist world who were also scarred by their childhood horror of Catholicism. Some would later return to some form of the Sacred even in parody and contortion. Ligotti even admits in another essay that he was influenced by the Gnostics, saying, “The tenets of Gnosticism were a perfect fit with my view of the universe. Woody Allen famously said, “If it turns out there is a God […] the worst you can say about him is that he’s an underachiever.” I’d say that’s the best you could say about him. And so did the Gnostics, who regarded the Old Testament creator entity as a false and self-deluded deity. However, they also believed there was a real God, and I couldn’t go there with them.”5

So like Borges who would dabble in a skeptical and playful incorporation of gnostic motifs, Ligotti will follow that subtle master who “described a similar feeling of the imminence of a revelation that never occurs as the definitive aesthetic experience” (1). Many of Ligotti’s tales hinge on just that “immanence of a revelation that never occurs”. How many of his anonymous personas wander various unknown cities and streets, seeking secret wisdom and knowledge in theatres, book shops, unusual pubs, unexpected meetings; wandering alone, slightly paranoid, yet fully awakened to the slippery worlds of shadowed ambience that seems to guide them slowly and steadily toward some ultimate revelation, but in the end revealing certain mental or physical horrors that seem to open up more questions than answers. These are stories that haunt us even as we put down his books, that seem to follow us like certain dreams; or, like K and Kafka’s tales or the Castle seem to lead to new strange worlds that forever elude us.

As in this tale of Ligotti’s Spectral Estate when we are left not even with a human, not even the usual anonymous person who usually wanders through his stories:

For in this constricted setting, echoes emerge which only a void of supernatural dimensions could create. Yet at first they may sound like the reverberant groaning of those clouds in which a storm slumbers. And then they may seem to mimic the hissing of the ocean as it swirls about the broken land below. Slowly, however, the echoes distinguish themselves from these natural sounds and attain their own voice—a voice that carries across incredible distances, a voice whose words come to lose their stratum of sense, a voice that is dissolving into sighs and sobs and chattering insanity. Every niche, every pattern, every shadow of the room is eloquent with this voice. And one’s attention may be distracted by this strange soliloquy, this uncanny music. Thus, one may not notice, as afternoon approaches nightfall, that something else is present in the room, something which has been secreted out of sight and waits to rise up in the shape of a revelation, to rise up like a cry in one’s own throat. (N, p. 2236)

In the above the sense of an immanent revelation about to be revealed, that nonetheless never will be pervades the ominous atmospheric movement or dance of the underlying rhetoric and its objects. The compulsion to repeat is the story itself, the story drives Ligotti to repeat under a 1001 variations the gestures of the fantastic, to reveal by not revealing, by conveying and alluring this hidden presence or void out of its lair as if in the next paragraph or sentence the very real material Thing that exists just this side of paradise will open its infernal wings and finally give us the solace of total absolution in pain and cruelty.

But instead “we are like the man who, by some legacy of fate, has come to stay in another old house, one very much like our own. After passing a short time within the cavernous and elaborate solitude of the place, he becomes a spectator to strange sights and sounds.”(N, KL 2251)  And after years and years he begins to go crazy in this solitude. Then one day his faith is restored, a faith in his “mental soundness has been triumphantly restored: it is the house itself which is mad.(N, KL 2263)”

There is a sense in our time that we are coming to know that objects have a life of their own without us, an inhuman or non-human world of things that act, react, and influence, allure, and carrying an existence just beyond the reach of our illusions. Harman in his Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy will remind us that deprived “of the real objects that lurk just beneath perception and all other contexts, we produce our own real objects in the midst of them…”.6 The conservative wisdom would tell us do not go too far, do not try to penetrate the horror that lurks behind the fragile order in which we live, since you will burn your fingers and the price you will pay will be much higher than you think… (Zizek). But the truth is much closer to those who push into the boundaries without return, and like the dreamer is awakened when the Real of the horror encountered in the dream is more horrible than the awakened reality itself, so that the dreamer escapes into reality in order to escape the Real encountered in the dream. (Zizek, 21)

This reversal in which reality becomes our escape route seems to pervade Ligotti’s fiction, which over and over follows this dialectic of the real/unreal from story to story. Ultimately we discover it is the dream that is luring us in, seeking to entrap us in its illusory world of strange and uncanny powers and objects. As Ligotti’s story teller will remark:

…If the spectral drama could be traced to definite origins, and others have been audience to it, this is not to prove that all testimony regarding the house is unmarked by madness. Rather, it suggests a greater derangement, a conspiracy of unreason implicating a plurality of lunatics, a delirium that encompasses past and present, houses and minds, the claustrophobic cellars of the soul and the endless spaces outside it. For we are the specters of a madness that surpasses ourselves and hides in mystery. And though we search for sense throughout endless rooms, all we may find is a voice whispering from a mirror in a house that belongs to no one. (N, KL 2257)

And, one might add, that the voice itself is no one but the empty presence of the Void. Or, as Zizek will state it: “What we get are strangely de-realized or, rather, de-psychologized subjects, as if we were dealing  with robotic puppets that obey a strange, blind mechanism…” (Zizek, 35) Ligotti speaking of puppets and determinism in another interview will tell it his way:

I have impulses to do things, but I don’t know how those impulses formed or why they make me do a particular thing and not some other thing. Whether we’re puppets or real human beings, whatever the latter may be, we go on thinking and acting in certain ways because we’re moved to do by certain forces we’re not aware of. You could argue with this perception, but it’s my perception and the whole thing would come down to I say, you say. To me, determinism just seems common sense, but I couldn’t tell you why it does. (The Hat Rack)

 In another interview he reminds us of another influence, Peter Wessel Zappfe whose essay “The Last Messiah” he first read in the March/April 2004 issue of the British journal Philosophy Now. It was here that Zapffe “beat the stuffing out of the theory on which Arthur Schopenhauer expatiated for thousands of pages — that everything in the universe is activated by a “Will-to-live,” a transcendental force that works the world like a cosmic puppet show.” Ligotti goes on to say:

 Schopenhauer’s Will does have its appeal, because if you accept it, then everything that once seemed mysterious makes perfect sense. If you ever wondered why things are the way they are or why people do the things the things they do, it all goes back to the Will, which is pulling all the strings. Intellectually and emotionally, it’s very satisfying. The problem is that Schopenhauer’s system only works on paper and can’t be detected as being part of existence any more than a creator-God.

Yet, as we’ve seen previously in the recent Negarestani post this notion of Will (hidden God/Force) is subsumed within a long discourse on voluntarism. We can even see in Ligotti’s admission that such a resolution to his dilemmas is aesthetically appealing (i.e., “Intellectually and emotionally, it’s very satisfying.) Yet, even this is handled as untrue for Ligotti, because it cannot be “detected as being part of existence any more than a creator-God”.

Ligotti will remark that Zappfe’s philosophy leads us to the conclusion that the “whole endeavor of being human is reduced to trying not to be human, which is very messed up. This allows Zapffe to go all the way and make the pessimist’s signature pronouncement — that instead of continuing to carry on, we should be getting down to giving up on life”. During this phase of his life he kept waiting for something terrible to happen, and what ultimately happened to him was that he fell into a deep depression:

Aside from its other effects, depression has a philosophical effect to it that other kinds of pain do not, and its implications very much changed my sense of what it was like to be alive in the world. In depression, everything is just what it seems to be: a tree is just a tree and not something that arouses symbolic meanings or affective associations. Life itself becomes very transparent in all its aspects to a depressive. There aren’t any mysteries left, since all mysteries come from within us. We’re mystery-making machines, and we project a sense of mystery onto a world that has no such thing behind or within it. Certain questions remain that may one day be answered or may not be answered. Either way it doesn’t matter to a depressive.

One of those anti-utopian moments that haunts him is this deep need within humans to end suffering and pain. As he says it if we were to invent a cure for human suffering, either by way of some transhuman or posthuman transcendence of the meat machine into an impervious body of steel etc., what would transpire? As he relates it,

Paradoxically, should the efforts of those who want to annihilate suffering succeed, it could be the end of us as a species. We would be returned to paradise. And reproduction would be irrelevant in a paradisal landscape where all dreams have been satisfied and all fears quashed.

A neutered race of angelic beings of steel and liquid quantum energy that feel nothing, and yet incarnate pure Intellect and intelligence. Is this our dream or nightmare? For Ligotti the answer was simple if complex: “the whole point of Conspiracy is that pessimism as a resolute life-stance is not welcome to the minds of very many people, even when it’s laid out as entertainingly as possible, which I’ve tried to do. But pessimistic works have never been well received as a rule. And I’m not naïve enough to think that it could ever be any other way”.7

If as in the quote that begins this essay we realize that human existence is something we were all lured into, a machinic existence both determinate and without end, an eternal round of pure death-drive, an interminable realm of utter madness in which we were duped to participate in the Demiurgic madness of suffering and jouissance: What options of escape or exit do we have; or, do we? The illusive illusions of Religion has always been offered up as one alternative, the madness of pure transcendence: Buddhism of the self-transparent emptiness of Mind and Things; or, the monotheistic realms of Sheol, Paradise, or Hellish delights; else the polytheistic realms of dominion and chaos; or, finally, the gnostic acceptance of fatalism, of Archons who rule the dungeon of Time under the tutelage of a Blind God. Else one chooses atheism and seeks solace among tributary thoughts of men and things, follows the path of Parmenides and his progeny into the realms where “thought is being” (Idealism), or Leucippus/Democritus and their progeny – after Lucretius; and, enter into the wars of Time and Mattering (Science, Materialism). Or, as in our time when things begin to go topsy-turvy and the worlds of ancient thought give way to inexistence and the realms of speculative madness of either anti-realist or realist views onto that which is. Or, finally, one can always ride the infernal joys of Ligotti’s pessimism that posits an aseptic, drab, everyday reality alongside the “fantasmatic Real of a nightmarish jouissance” (Zizek), where the infernal paradise of the Unreal breaks through in sparks of wonder and trepidation:

For we are the specters of a madness that surpasses ourselves and hides in mystery. And though we search for sense throughout endless rooms, all we may find is a voice whispering from a mirror in a house that belongs to no one. (Noctuary)

 


 

  1. Julia Kristeva. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. (Columbia, 1982)
  2. Interview: Thomas Ligotti and the Realm of Nightmares. Weird Fiction Review. Oct 15, 2015 (see here)
  3. Ligotti, Thomas (2012-06-25). Noctuary (Kindle Locations 2211-2215). Subterranean Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. Harman, Graham (2010-11-26). Circus Philosophicus (pp. 34-35). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
  5. Sigmund Freud. Freud – Complete Works (Kindle Locations 87181-87182). Ivan Smith.
  6. Interview: Thomas Roueché / Portrait: Jennifer Gariepy. Tank Magazine. (See here)
  7. Graham Harman. Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. (Zero Books, 2012)
  8. A Conversation with Thomas Ligotti by Geoffrey H. Goodwin (07 October 2007). (See here)

Thomas Ligotti: The Order of Illusion

It seemed to him that the old mysteries had been made for another universe, and not the one he came to know. Yet there was no doubt that they had once deeply impressed him.
………– Thomas Ligotti, Noctuary

Most of Thomas Ligotti’s characters are forgettable, anonymous and seem to wander through the haze of things like jack rabbits that have just been caught out by the high amp lights of some devilish crew bent on mayhem and annihilation. The Order of Illusion like many of his other tales ambles from contortion to utter degradation in less time than it takes to blink one’s eye. “Intoxicated by their wonder, by raw wonder itself, he might never have turned away from the golden blade held aloft by crimson hands, from the mask with seven eyes, the idol of moons, from the ceremony called the Night of the Night, along with other rites of illumination and all the ageless doctrines which derived from their frenzies.”1

So it goes. Our celebrant celebrates the “night of the world” as Hegel once called it. The gnosis of some dark knowledge so secretive that even the cult members themselves must never speak of it. Instead they in orgiastic jouissance, in excess wring the last dregs of pain beyond pleasure, steeped as they are in the heritage of illusions. Like members of some last pittance of the human corruption they seek not a god beyond things, but rather the truth within the realm of daemonic energy that is matter itself. There is no beyond, only the testament of blood and flesh, the scorched delights of cruelty and pain, the sacred dance of entropy the rides the swirling abyss like a tiger after its prey. No. These are the monks not of some abstention or ascesis, but rather the cenobites of pleasures so difficult that few would dare to enter the path much less realize its dark turn into being’s final event. This is no apocalypse, there is no escape; only the endless night of chaos and temporal distortion and contortion. The twisted fated loops of a derision that has sought for far too long a consummation in an immortal death without end. The (in)existence of that which has no name but is everywhere worshiped under the guise of rebellion and emancipation of evil.

Life as the endless formlessness of death.

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Thomas Ligotti: The Frolic and the Wyrd (Weird)

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

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

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

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

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

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Thomas Ligotti: The Horror-Maker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you understand me now?

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


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

Utopia or Hell: The Future as Posthuman Game Strategy

 

There was no question; the dead thing in the gutter was one of his clones. – Jeffrey Thomas, Punktown

As I was thinking through the last chapter in David Roden’s posthuman adventure in which a spirit of speculative engineering best exemplifies an ethical posthuman becoming – not the comic or dreadful arrest in the face of something that cannot be grasped 1, I began reading Arthur Kroker in his book Exits to the Posthuman Future, who in an almost uncanny answer to Roden’s plea for new forms of thought – to prepare ourselves for the posthuman eventuality, tells us that we might need a “form of thought that listens intently for the gaps, fissures, and intersections , whether directly in the technological sphere or indirectly in culture, politics, and society, where incipient signs of the posthuman first begin to figure.”2 We might replace the use of the word “figure” with Roden’s terminological need for an understanding of “emergence”.

Rereading Slavoj Zizek’s early The Sublime Object of Ideology he will see a specific battle within the cultural matrix in which scientists and critics alike have a tendency to fill these gaps, or unknowns with complexity and an almost acute anxiety of that which is coming at us out of the future. He says that there is always this dialectical interplay between Ptolemaic and Copernican movements. The Ptolemaic being the form that simply shores up the past, solidifying and reducing the complexities of the sciences to its simplified worldview, while the Copernicans always opt for fracturing the old forms, for opening up the world to the gaps that cannot be evaded in our knowledge, to allowing the universe to enter us and challenge everything we are and have been.

The Gothic modes of fiction seem to follow and fill these uncertain voids and gaps with the monstrous rather than light when such moments of metamorphosis and change come about. Fear and instability shake us to our bones, force us to resist change and seek ways to either turn time back or to put the unknown into some perverse relation to our lives, darkening its visions into complicity with the inhuman and sadomasochistic heart of our own core defense systems. One might be reminded of Thomas Ligotti’s remembrance of Mary Shelley’s famous Frankenstein in which his own repetition of her story in a postmodern mode has the creature awaken into his posthuman self with a sense of loss: “

This possibility is now , of course, as defunct as the planet itself. With all biology in tatters, the outsider will never again hear the consoling gasps of those who shunned him and in whose eyes and hearts he achieved a certain tangible identity, however loathsome. Without the others he simply cannot go on being himself— The Outsider— for there is no longer anyone to be outside of. In no time at all he is overwhelmed by this atrocious paradox of fate.

This sense of ambivalence that he fills at having attained at last something outside of humanity returns with a darker knowledge that becoming other he can no longer harbor what he once dreamed, he has become the thing he dreaded. Cast out of the biological tic he is free, but free for what? No longer human he is faced with the paradox of who he now is: and, that he has nothing to which his mind can tend, no thoughts from the others, the humans; no libraries of philosophy, ethics, history, literature. No. He is absolutely outside of the human; alone. Is this solipsism or something else? Even that classic work by the Comte de Lautremont Maldoror in which the ecstasy of cruelty is unleased cannot be a part of this world of the posthuman. What if the mythology of drives, of eros and thanatos, love and death, the rhetoric flourishes of figuration, else the literalism of sadomasochism no longer hold for such beings? How apply human knowledge and thought to what is inhuman? As Ligotti will end one of his little vignettes:

And each fragment of the outsider cast far across the earth now absorbs the warmth and catches the light, reflecting the future life and festivals of a resurrected race of beings : ones who will remain forever ignorant of their origins but for whom the sight of a surface of cold, unyielding glass will always hold profound and unexplainable terrors. (ibid)

This sense of utter desolation, of catastrophe as creation and invention, is this not the truth of the posthuman? Zizek will attune us to the monstrous notion that Hegel’s notion of Aufhebung or sublation is a form of cannibalism in that it effectively and voraciously devours and ‘swallows up’ every object it comes upon.4 His point being that the only way we can grasp an object (let’s say the posthuman) is to acknowledge that it already ‘wants to be with/by us’? If as Roden suggests we as humans are becoming the site of a great experiment in inventing the posthuman then maybe as Zizek suggests its not digestion or cognition, but shitting that we must understand, because for Hegel the figure of Absolute Knowledge, the cognizing subject is one of total passivity; an agent in which the System of Knowledge is ‘automatically’ deployed without external norms or impetuses. Zizek will tell us that this is a radicalized Hegel, one that defends the notion of ‘process without subject’: the emergence of a pure subject qua void, the object itself with no need for any subjective agent to push it forward or to direct it. (ibid, xxii)

This notion that the posthuman as ‘process without subject’ that has no need of human agents to push it, direct or guide it takes us to the edge of the technological void where our human horizon meets and merges with the inhuman other residing uncannily within our own being, withdrawn and primeval.

Engineering Our Posthuman future

Chris Anderson , in his ‘The end of theory: The data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete’  argued that data will speak for themselves, no need of human beings who may ask smart questions:

With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves. […] The scientific method is built around testable hypotheses. These models, for the most part, are systems visualized in the minds of scientists. The models are then tested, and experiments confirm or falsify theoretical models of how the world works. This is the way science has worked for hundreds of years. Scientists are trained to recognize that correlation is not causation, that no conclusions should be drawn simply on the basis of correlation between X and Y (it could just be a coincidence). Instead, you must understand the underlying mechanisms that connect the two. Once you have a model, you can connect the data sets with confidence . Data without a model is just noise. But faced with massive data, this approach to science— hypothesize, model, test— is becoming obsolete.5

So what is replacing it? Luciano Floridi will tell us that it’s not about replacement, but about the small patterns in the chaos of data:

[One needs to ] know how to ask and answer questions’ critically, and therefore know which data may be useful and relevant, and hence worth collecting and curating, in order to exploit their valuable patterns. We need more and better technologies and techniques to see the small-data patterns , but we need more and better epistemology to sift the valuable ones.6

So if we are to understand the emergence of the posthuman out of the relations of human and technology we need to ask the right questions, and to build the technologies that can pierce the veil of this infinite sea of information our society is inventing in the digital machines of Data. Data itself is stupid, what we need are intelligent questioners. But do these intelligent agents need to be necessarily human? Maybe not, yet as Floridi will suggest:

One thing seems to be clear: talking of information processing helps to explain why our current AI systems are overall more stupid than the wasps in the bottle. Our present technology is actually incapable of processing any kind of meaningful information, being impervious to semantics, that is, the meaning and interpretation of the data manipulated. ICTs are as misnamed as ‘smart weapons’. (Floridi, KL 2525)

Descartes once acknowledged that the essential sign of intelligence was a capacity to learn from different circumstances, adapt to them, and exploit them to one’s own advantage. And, many in the AI community have followed that path thinking it would be a priceless feature of any appliance that sought to be more than merely smart. In our own time the impression has often been that the process of adding to the mathematical book of nature (inscription) required the feasibility of productive, cognitive AI, in other words, the strong programme. Yet, what has actually been happening in the real world of commerce and practical science of engineering is something altogether different, we’ve been inventing a world that is becoming an infosphere, one that is increasingly well adapted to ICTs’ (Information & Communications Technologies) limited capacities. What we see happening is that companies in their bid to invent Smart Cities etc. are beginning to adapt the environment to our smart technologies to make sure the latter can interact with it successfully . We are, in other words, wiring or rather enveloping the world with intelligence. Our environment itself is becoming posthuman and in turn is rewiring humanity. (ibid. Floridi)

ICTs are creating the new informational environment in which future generations will live and have their being. The posthuman is becoming our environment a site of intelligence, we are we are constructing the new physical and intellectual environments that will be inhabited by future generations. For Floridi the task is to formulate an ethical framework that can treat the infosphere as a new environment worthy of the moral attention and care of the human inforgs inhabiting it:

Such an ethical framework must address and solve the unprecedented challenges arising in the new environment. It must be an e-nvironmental ethics for the whole infosphere. This sort of synthetic (both in the sense of holistic or inclusive, and in the sense of artificial) environmentalism will require a change in how we perceive ourselves and our roles with respect to reality, what we consider worth our respect and care, and how we might negotiate a new alliance between the natural and the artificial. It will require a serious reflection on the human project and a critical review of our current narratives, at the individual, social, and political levels. (Floridi, KL 3954)

James Barrat in his book Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era tells us he interviewed many scientists in various fields concerning AGI and that every one of these people was convinced that in the future all the important decisions governing the lives of humans will be made by machines or humans whose intelligence is augmented by machines. When? Many think this will take place within their lifetimes.7 After interviewing dozens of scientist Barrat concluded that we may be slowly losing control of our future to machines that won’t necessarily hate us, but that will develop unexpected behaviors as they attain high levels of the most unpredictable and powerful force in the universe, levels that we cannot ourselves reach, and behaviors that probably won’t be compatible with our survival. A force so unstable and mysterious, nature achieved it in full just once—intelligence. (Barrat, 6)

As Kroker will admonish we seem to be on the cusp of a strange transition, situated at the crossroads of humanity, and the future presents itself now as a gigantic simulacrum of the recycled remnants of all that which was left unfinished by the coming-to-be of the technological dynamo – unfinished religious wars, unfinished ethnic struggles, unfinished class warfare, unfinished sacrificial violence and spasms of brutal power, often motivated by a psychology of anger on the part of the most privileged members of the so-called global village. The apocalypse seems to be coming our way like a specter on the horizon, not a grand epiphany of events but by one lonely text message at a time. (Kroker, 193)

The techno-capitalists want to enclose us in a new global commons of intelligent cities to better control our behavior and police us in a vast hyperworld of machinic pleasure and posthuman revelation, while the rest of humanity sits on the outside of these corrupted dreamworlds as workers and slaves of the new AI wars for the minds of humanity. Bruce Sterling in his latest book The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things says we’re already laying the infrastructure for tyranny and control on a global scale:

Digital commerce and governance is moving, as fast and hard as it possibly can, into a full-spectrum dominance over whatever used to be analogue. In practice, the Internet of Things means an epic transformation: all-purpose electronic automation through digital surveillance by wireless broadband.8

Another prognosticator Jacque Attali who supports the technological elite takeover in this world of intelligent systems, tells us that in the course of the twenty-first century, market forces will take the planet in hand. The ultimate expression of unchecked individualism, this triumphant march of money explains the essence of history’s most recent convulsions. It is up to us to accelerate, resist, or master it:

…this evolutionary process means that money will finally rid itself of everything that threatens it — including nation-states (and not excepting the United States of America), which it will progressively dismantle. Once the market becomes the world’s only universally recognized law, it will evolve into what I shall call super-empire, an entity whose structures remain elusive but whose reach is global. … Exploiting ever newer technologies, global or continental institutions will organize collective living, imposing limits on the production of commercial artifacts, on transforming life, and on the mercantile exploitation of natural resources. They will prefer freedom of action, responsibility, and access to knowledge. They will usher in the birth of a universal intelligence, making common property of the creative capacities of all human beings in order to transcend them. A new, synchronized economy, providing free services, will develop in competition with the market before eliminating it, exactly as the market put an end to feudalism a few centuries ago.9

The dream of the global elites is of a great market empire controlled by vast AI Intelligent Agents that will deliver the perfect utopian realm of work and play for a specific minority of engineers and creative agents, entrepreneurs, bankers, and space moghuls, etc., while the rest of the dregs of humanity live in the shadows controlled by implants or pharmaceuticals that will keep them pacified and slave-happy in their menial tier of decrepitude as workers in the minimalist camps that support the Smart Civilization and its powers.    

Yet, against this decadent scenario as Kroker suggests what if the counter were true, and the shadow artists of the future or even now beginning to enter the world of data nerves, network skin, and increasingly algorithmic minds with the intention of capturing the dominant mood of these posthuman times – drift culture – in a form of thought that dwells in complicated intersections and complex borderlands? He envisions instead an new emergent order of rebels, a global gathering of new media artists, remix musicians, pirate gamers, AI graffiti artists, anonymous witnesses, and code rebels, an emerging order of figural aesthetics revealing a new order, a brilliantly hallucinatory order, based on an art of impossible questions and a perceptual language as precise as it is evocative. Here, the aesthetic imagination dwells solely on questions of incommensurability : What is the vision of the clone? What is the affect of the code? What is the hauntology of the avatar? What is most excluded, prohibited, by the android? What is the perception of the drone? What are the aesthetics of the fold? What, in short, is the meaning of aesthetics in the age of drift culture?(Kroker, 195-196)

This notion of drift culture might align well with David Roden’s call for a new network of interdisciplinary practices that combine technoscientific expertise with ethical and aesthetic experimentation will be better placed to sculpt disconnections than narrow coalitions of experts. One in which the ‘Body Hacker’ with her self-invention and empowerment toward a self-administered intervention in extreme new technologies like the IA technique…(Roden, KL 4394). Kroker will call this ‘body drift’:

Body drift refers to the fact that we no longer inhabit a body in any meaningful sense of the term but rather occupy a multiplicity of bodies— imaginary, sexualized, disciplined, gendered, laboring, technologically augmented bodies. Moreover, the codes governing behavior across this multiplicity of bodies have no real stability but are themselves in drift— random, fluctuating, changing. There are no longer fixed, unchallenged codes governing sexuality, gender, class, or power but only an evolving field of contestation among different interpretations and practices of different bodily codes. The multiplicity of bodies that we are, or are struggling to become, is invested by code-perspectives. Never fixed and unchanging, code-perspectives are always subject to random fluctuations, always evolving, always intermediated by other objects, by other code-perspectives. We know this as a matter of personal autobiography.(Kroker, KL 53)10

 This notion that we are becoming ‘code’ is also part of the posthuman nexus. As Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge in Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life tell us this sense of the pervasiveness of the environment enclosing us is becoming posthuman is termed ‘everywhere’: the ubiquity of computational power will soon be distributed and available to the point on the planet… many everyday devices and objects will be accessible across the Internet of things, chatting to each other in machinic languages that humans will not even be aware of much less concerned with; yet, we will be enclosed in this fabric of communication and technology of Intelligence, socialized by its pervasiveness in our lives. Instead of the old Marxian notion of being embedded in a machine, we will now be so enmeshed in this environment of ICTs that they will become invisible: power and governance will vanish into our skins and minds without us even knowing it is happening, and we will be happy.

Luis Suarez-Villa in his recent Globalization and Technocapitalism tells us “the ethos of technocapitalism places experimentalism at the core of corporate power”, much as production was at the core of industrial corporate power, undertaken through factory regimes and labor processes. And , much as the ethos of past capitalist eras was accompanied by social pathologies and by frameworks of domination, so the new ethos of technocapitalism introduces pathological constructs of global domination that are likely to be hallmarks of the twenty-first century. As Floridi will tells us, we are already living in an infosphere that will become increasingly synchronized (time), delocalized ( space ), and correlated (interactions). Although this might be interpreted, optimistically, as the friendly face of globalization, we should not harbour illusions about how widespread and inclusive the evolution of the information society will be. Unless we manage to solve it, the digital divide will become a chasm, generating new forms of discrimination between those who can be denizens of the infosphere and those who cannot, between insiders and outsiders, between information rich and information poor. It will redesign the map of worldwide society, generating or widening generational, geographic, socio-economic, and cultural divides. Yet the gap will not be reducible to the distance between rich and poor countries, since it will cut across societies. Pre-historical cultures have virtually disappeared, with the exception of some small tribes in remote corners of the world. The new divide will be between historical and hyperhistorical ones. We might be preparing the ground for tomorrow’s informational slums (Floridi, 9).

 Welcome to the brave new world. As our drift and code culture, digital immigrants in a sea of information slowly become inforgs and are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick. (Floridi, 16-17)

What remains of our humanity is anyone’s guess. The Inforgasm is upon us, the slipstream worlds of human/machine have begun to reverse engineer each other in a convoluted involution in which we are returning to our own native climes as machinic beings. Maybe a schizoanalyst could sort this all out. For me there is no escape, no exit, just the harsh truth that what is coming at us is our own inhuman core realized as posthuman becoming, an engineering feat that no one would have thought possible: consciousness gives way to the very machinic processes that underpin its actual and virtual histories.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Locations 4399-4401). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Kroker, Arthur (2014-03-12). Exits to the Posthuman Future (p. 6). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
3. Ligotti, Thomas (2014-07-10). The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein (Kindle Locations 397-399). Subterranean Press. Kindle Edition.
4. Slavoj Zizek. The Sublime Object of Ideology. Verso 1989
5. Anderson, C. (23 June 2008). The end of theory: Data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete. Wired Magazine.
6. Floridi, Luciano (2014-06-26). The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality (Kindle Locations 4088-4089). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
7. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (p. 3). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
8. Sterling, Bruce (2014-09-01). The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things (Kindle Locations 8-10). Strelka Press. Kindle Edition.
9. Attali, Jacques (2011-07-01). A Brief History of the Future: A Brave and Controversial Look at the Twenty-First Century . Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
10. Kroker, Arthur (2012-10-22). Body Drift: Butler, Hayles, Haraway (Posthumanities) (Kindle Locations 53-60). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.


 

 

 

 

 

Thomas Ligotti: Speculations in Black

“At first there was no specific mention of Ascrobius, but only a kind of twilight talk — dim and pervasive murmurs that persistently revolved around the graveyard outside of town, often touching upon more general topics of a morbid character, including some abstract discourse, as I interpreted it, on the phenomenon of the grave.”
– Thomas Ligotti, His Shadow Shall Rise to a Higher House

Reading Ligotti is like listening to the disquisitions of a hermetic scientist or the dissonant music of an infernal composer – one who is continually fascinated by the arcane mysteries that traces the liminal and shadowy realm of nonbeing unto the furthest reaches of the darkest Abyss: a realm of the unreal just beyond the nothingness that is and the nothingness that is not, a black world that is not so much separated from our own as it is the very groundless ground and source from which our world arises out of the great Void. An infrastructure of corruption that permeates the very smoothness of our late capitalism, a nomadic world that slips agential to the fake worlds we inhabit.

Ligotti’s  characters always seem to be wandering down the lonely roads and byways of certain ruinous cities and  towns where the negative potency of corruption and decay give birth to the metaphysical potencies of a hellish paradise and the nightmares of a joyful cruelty at the heart of non-being.  Following these philosophical prodigies down the dark nooks and crannies of these strange and disquieting old villages, where the expectant guest who will never arrive but is always already there in all his unfounded wonderment, we begin to see the hideous amplitude of a primoridial world rise out of the bones and ashes of a cosmic catastrophe that overtook reality so long ago that even the darkest mind founders amid its necrotic zones.

One of my favorite stories is His Shadow Shall Rise to a Higher House, which opens with one of those natural yet strangely disquieting paragraphs that set the tone for most of Ligotti’s speculative musings:

“In the middle of the night I lay wide awake in bed, listening to the dull black drone of the wind outside my window and the sound of bare branches scraping against the shingles of the roof just above me. Soon my thoughts became fixed upon a town, picturing its various angles and aspects, a remote town near the northern border. Then I remembered that there was a hilltop graveyard that hovered not far beyond the edge of town. I never mentioned to anyone this graveyard which for a time was a source of great anguish for those who had retreated to the barren landscape of the northern border.”[1]

What’s interesting in this passage is how certain black sounds emerging from the outer world awaken in the mind of this, as yet, anonymous speaker architectural images of a remote town on the northern border. These harsh sounds of the “dull black drone of wind” and the “bare scraping against the shingles” break into the mind from the great outdoors of existence like the reverberations and repetitions of an alien universe. Yet it is this droning and scraping that helps focus his attention upon the strange geometric monstrousness of the town’s “various angles and aspects”, and from this imaginative reverie comes a memory from the hinterland of the mind that brings with it the image of a “graveyard” that was the originary force of a “great anguish” for the people of this “barren landscape of the northern border.” That the town exists on the boundaries of some undefined zone, county, country, etc. is in itself a part of the disquieting prelude to a horrible event. Kant distinguishes between the “remarkable differences” of the Beautiful and the Sublime, noting that beauty “is connected with the form of the object”, having “boundaries”, while the sublime “is to be found in a formless object”, represented by a “boundlessness”. Kant also believed that we cannot conceive of a mind-independent reality without a mind to conceive that mind-independent reality. But there is reason to believe that Kant was wrong about this and that there exists a reality totally and absolutely independent of our human thoughts and is indifferent to our human plight as well.

Timothy Morton tells us that we get most of our ideas about the Sublime from Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant, and that “for Burke the sublime is the awesome power of an external authority—shock and awe. For Kant the sublime is the experience of inner freedom based on a momentary feeling of cognitive failure.”[2] He goes on to tell us that both Sublimes are part of that post-Kantian heritage that Quentin Meillassoux describes as “correlationist”, and that both sublimes assume that “the world is specially or uniquely accessible to humans; the sublime uniquely correlates the world to humans; and, what’s more important about the sublime is a reaction in the subject” (ibid.). Instead of these correlationist sublimes Morton offers instead a speculative sublime, “an object-oriented sublime” that  refers us back to the oldest writer on the Sublime, Longinus, in his Peri Hypsous, which according to Morton is a sublime “about the physical intrusion of an alien presence” which can “easily be broadened to include non-human “experiences” of the sublime” (ibid.).

Without going into the history of the Sublime I think a review of the Longinian concept of ekphrasis is pertinent to our discussion of Ligotti’s sublime horror. It was Paul Friedlander who once taught us that true description is the representation of the surface appearance of a work of visual art, and that ekphrasis should try to represent, as faithfully as possible, the visible features of a work.[3] Leo Spitzer delimited ekphrasis as “the poetic description of a pictorial or sculptural work of art, which description implies … the reproduction, through the medium of words, of sensuously perceptible objets d’art”. [4] It is in this sense of one form of art being used to reproduce or describe another form that is the essential element of ekphrasis. Artists use their own literary and artistic genre of art to work and reflect on another art to illuminate what the eye might not see in the original, to elevate it and possibly even surpass it. There is also the idea of “notional ekphrasis” which may describe mental processes such as dreams, thoughts and whimsies of the imagination. It may also be one art describing or depicting another work of art which as yet is still in an inchoate state of creation, in that the work described may still be resting in the imagination of the artist before he has begun his creative work. The expression may also be applied to an art describing the origin of another art, how it came to be made and the circumstances of its being created. Finally it may describe an entirely imaginary and non-existing work of art, as though it were factual and existed in reality. [5]

Timothy Morton describes how Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Sublime with its “ultra vivid descriptions” works as a form of ekphrasis. In contrast to the sublimes of Burke, who located the sublime in the power of the object over a subject; and, in Kant, for whom it was located in the freedom of the subject; Morton sees in the Longinian sublime  an “intimacy with an alien presence” and described this sublime as “what evokes this proximity of the alien”. [6] He goes on to tell us that the Longinian mode of ekphrasis  “is not about the reaction of the (human) subject, but about rhetorical modes as affective contemplative techniques for summoning the alien” (ibid. p. 10). It reveals to us the strangely unnerving power of objects, in that the “subject” is revealed to be an assemblage of objects “that can be acted on physically” (ibid. 10). The idea that objects can have relations among themselves without our determining subjectivity or our human proclivities toward a subject/world correlation that has held us spellbound to Kant and his heritage for two hundred years is at the heart of this return to the Longinian sublime and its influence on the Object-Oriented Sublime of Graham Harman and Morton. Ultimately this OOO Sublime is about the melancholy of a subject cut off from the depths of “a world without reference to a subject” (ibid. p. 17). Morton goes on to tell us:

“The more the ekphrasis zaps us, the more we fall back into the gravity well of melancholy. Sentience is out of phase with objects, at least if you have a nervous system. So melancholia is the default mode of subjectivity: an object-like coexistence with other objects and the otherness of objects–touching them, touching the untouchable, dwelling on the dark side one can never know, living in endless twilight shadows” (ibid. p. 16).

Since Nature and the Transcendental Subject no longer exist, which is at the heart of a non-correlationist philosophy or speculative realism then what is left? Morton tells us that it is “things”, the utterly interminable universe of objects beyond any thought of the human or subjectivity. This philosophy agrees with the basic tenets of Science in that there is no “Big Other”, nothing that is not a part of the system of the universe that could define it from outside in an Archimedian fashion. Even materialism as it has come down to us is not without its faults, as Morton relates it: “OOO is troubling for materialisms that rely on any kind of substrate, whether it consists of discrete atoms or of a continuum. Materialism lopes along hampered by Newtonian–Cartesian atomistic mechanism on the one hand, and the formless goo of Spinoza on the other” (ibid. p. 19). In the world of quantum mechanics we discover objects and phenomena  that “are not simply hard to access or only partially “translated” by minds and other objects. They are irreducibly withdrawn” (ibid. p. 19). Quantum Theory is the only true realist approach to objects, and it “positively guarantees that real objects exist! Not only that–these objects exist beyond one another.

Quantum theory does this by viewing phenomena as quanta, as discrete “units” as described in Unit Operations by OOO philosopher Ian Bogost. “Units” strongly resemble OOO “objects” (ibid. p. 20). It is this “withdrawness”, this ability for objects to withdraw their relations to other objects that moves us beyond any form of nihilism as well suggests Morton, saying, “Relationism holds that objects are nothing more than the sum of their relations with other objects. This begs the question of what an object is, since the definition implies a potential infinite regress: what are the “other objects”? Why, nothing more than the sum of their relations with other objects–and so on ad obscurum. At least OOO takes a shot at saying what objects are: they withdraw” (ibid. p. 26).

Morton tells us that objects cannot be defined by their relations to other objects, but that this does not mean that they do not have relations: it simply means “how they appear has a shadowy, illusory, magical, “strangely strange” quality” (ibid. p. 27). He goes on to say,

“Life forms and non-life forms are unique and strange precisely because they do derive from one another. Yet all kinds of life forms scuttle around, and objects proliferate. What we should drop are the concepts Nature and Non- Nature. Heidegger describes how things are intermodulated: we never hear the wind, only the wind in the door” (ibid. p. 28).

It’s this intermodulation of objects that returns us to Ligotti and his first paragraph with its strangely strange “dull black drone of the wind outside my window and the sound of bare branches scraping against the shingles of the roof just above me” (ibid.). Its the physicality of the droning wind whistling round the window and the branches as they “scrape against the shingles” that releases for a moment at least a strange relation within the mind of this particularized subject, awakens within him an anomalous set of objects that unfold in an ekphrasis that translates the artistic picturing of the town with its “various angles and aspects” into reverie, then releases the memory image of that weird object of the “hilltop graveyard that hovered not far beyond the edge of town” (ibid.). The image of a “hovering” graveyard is indeed a “strangely strange” object to envision and does appear as shadowy, illusory, and magical.

*     *     *

“You see what has happened,” Dr. Klatt said to us. “He has annulled his diseased and nightmarish existence, leaving us with an uncreated grave on our hands.”
– Thomas Ligotti

In one of those rare moments Ligotti, in an Interview with Darrel Schweitzer, tells us “I was a Catholic until I was eighteen years old, when I unloaded all of the doctrines, but almost none of the fearful superstition, of a gothically devout childhood and youth.”[7] Is Ligotti haunted by the spectrality of a childhood faith? Hauntology is the discursive processes that create and shape conditions of what Derrida calls spectrality, a ‘non-living present in the living present’ that is no longer with us but somehow continually appears.[8]

Is this not what haunts the small border town in the north? We are told that a Recluse, Ascrobius, has recently been buried in the town graveyard on the hill. We also learn that Ascrobius suffered from a malady that left his body deeply riddled with deformities, yet he had somehow managed to survive and had become intensely contemplative and philosophical in his solitary life. At first no one missed Ascrobius until certain citizens began to have a “kind of twilight talk — dim and pervasive murmurs that persistently revolved around the graveyard outside of town, often touching upon more general topics of a morbid character, including some abstract discourse, as I interpreted it, on the phenomenon of the grave” (ibid.).

One wonders if the citizens themselves are none other than undying revenants, what Powys once called “strange figures, “ces spectres agités,” as if they were passing from twilight to twilight through the silvery mists of some pale Corot-picture, passing into thin air, into the shadow of a shadow, into the dream of a dream, into nothingness and oblivion.” [9] Yet, these voices seemed to take on a life of their own, become disembodied and emerge from “shadowed doorways along narrow streets, from half-opened windows of the highest rooms of the town’s old houses, and from the distant corners of labyrinthine and resonant hallways. Everywhere, it seemed, there were voices that had become obsessed to the point of hysteria with a single subject: the “missing grave”(ibid.).” Certain legends on Japan speak of Japanese Yōkai,

“In ancient Aomori prefecture legends, Uwan is a disembodied voice that inhabits old, abandoned temples and homes. When a person enters a haunted building, the formless spirit belts out an ear-piercing “Uwan!” (hence the name). The voice is only audible to people inside the building — those standing outside hear nothing. Uwan consists only of sound and poses no physical danger.” [10]

This idea of disembodied voices is what Slavoj Zizek calls a “voice without source”, and they are “instances of “partial objects,” which according to Zizek, are instances of drive in the world.”[11] As Zizek would have it these disembodied voices “stand for drive at its purest: an ‘undead’ partial object that functions as a kind of impersonal willing: ‘it wants’, it persists in its repetitive movement, it follows its path and exacts its satisfaction at any price, irrespective of the subject’s well-being. This drive is that which is ‘in the subject more than herself’: although the subject cannot ever ‘subjectivize’ it, assume it as ‘her own’ by way of saying ‘It is I who want to do this!’ it nonetheless operates in her very kernel.”[12]

Yet, the very subject of these hysterical disembodied voices is the “missing grave,” which remind one of this mysterious borderland world beyond the margins of all change, where the “dim vague feelings of humanity take to themselves shadowy and immortal forms and whisper and murmur of what except in music can never be uttered” (Powys).

It is within this mileau we are told that of the doctor and scientist, Klatt, who began speaking of the “recent anomaly not as a missing grave, or even an absent grave, but as an uncreated grave…” (ibid.). We know that doctor Klatt was close to the missing Ascrobius, and that his “reputation” became “closely linked to that of the deceased individual who was well known for both his grossly deformed body and for his intensely contemplative nature” (ibid.). The proximity of this anomalous combination of a “grossly deformed body” with an “intensely contemplative nature” produces a grotesque sense of “total strain, a tense grimace to which is added the demonically seductive pallor of a man who has struggled along horrible, dark precipices.”[13]

Dr. Klatt tells us that Ascrobius “should be viewed as most monstrous and freakish, qualities that emerged as a consequence of his intensely contemplative nature. “He had incredible powers available to him,” said the doctor. “He might even have cured himself of his diseased physical condition, who can say? But all of his powers of contemplation, all of those incessant meditations that took place in his high back-street house, were directed toward another purpose altogether.”(ibid.)” He goes on to tell us that what Ascrobius sought was “was an absolute annulment, not only of his disease but of his entire existence. On rare occasions he even spoke to me,” the doctor said, “about the uncreation of his whole life” (ibid.).

Michael Austin tells us that total annihilation can never be accomplished that ” the possibility of ghosts returning in a Spectral Realism, the idea that their bones could reassemble, perhaps not in the same way, but in the same spirit. In this way, a ghost can never achieve the perpetual peace of absolute non-existence, but is always only “almost dead.” No ghost is ever entirely here, nor are they ever entirely absent.” [14]

I will leave some of the mystery of the story to the reader, yet this idea of the ghost that is “never entirely absent” reverberates within the folding movement of the final paragraph:

“Although I cannot say that I witnessed anything myself, others reported signs of a “new occupation,” not at the site of the grave of Ascrobius, but at the high back-street house where the recluse once spent his intensely contemplative days and nights. There were sometimes lights behind the curtained windows, these observers said, and the passing figure outlined upon those curtains was more outlandishly grotesque than anything they had ever seen while the resident of that house had lived. But no one ever approached the house. Afterward all speculation about what had come to be known as the “resurrection of the uncreated” remained in the realm of twilight talk” (ibid.).

Maybe this is what Nietzsche meant when he said in an enigmatic aphorism:

“Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.”
The Gay Science

1. Weird Tales, Spring 1999 p. 28-32.
2.
Sublime Objects, Arcade 10.10.2010
3. Johannes von Gaza und Paulus Silentarius, ed. P. Friedlander (Leipzig-Berlin, 1912)
4. Leo Spitzer, ‘The “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in Essays on English and American Literature, ed. Anna Hatcher (Princeton, 1962), p. 72.
5.
Ekphrasis, wikipedia article
6. Here Comes Everything: The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology, Timothy Morton
7. Speaking of Horror: Conversations with Masters of the Field – Borgo Press (December 1, 1994)
8. Freccero, Carla. 2006. Queer/Early/Modern (Durham & London: Duke University Press)
9.
SUSPENDED JUDGMENTS ESSAYS ON BOOKS AND SENSATIONS John Cowper Powys (Copyright, 1916, by G. Arnold Shaw)
10. Yokai, wikipedia article
11. Monsters, Demons and Partial Objects – Complete Lies (June 3, 2009)
12. Love beyond Law, Slavoj Zizek (© lacan. com 1997/2005)
13. On the Heights of Despair, E.M. Cioran (University of Chicago, 1992 p. 18)
14. The Bones of Ghosts 1: Hauntology and Architecture 
– Complete Lies (March 9, 2009)

Thomas Ligotti: Epicure of Pessimism – Part III

“We need books that affect us like a misfortune, that hurt us a great deal, like the death of someone whom we loved more than ourselves, like a suicide, a book must be an ax in a frozen sea inside us.”
– Kafka writing to Ernst Pollak

Harold Bloom writing on Edgar Allen Poe told us that “something primordial in Poe tapped into a universal anguish.” Bloom also subscribes to the dictum that the subtle art of criticism, and art for that matter, can only teach us “how to talk to ourselves and how to endure ourselves… the proper use of one’s own solitude, that solitude whose final form is one’s confrontation with one’s own mortality…. the rest is silence.”

Within that strange realm we call the modern weird tale one can see the ‘universal anguish’ shaping itself into an aesthetic splendor full of cognitive power and deep wisdom. The modern weird tale marks out a territory of myth and imaginative literature which gives to both its practitioners and its readers a counter-sublime. At the heart of this dark fantastic is a raging confrontation and displacement of the real by the ‘Order of the Unreal’.

As one of its post-modern masters, Thomas Ligotti, inhabits a special place where the confrontation with mortality takes on an agon which is at once a lie against time and ignorance, a battle against the illusionary traps that engulf people in a nightmare world of panic and anxiety. A cascade of stimulants and hormones – adrenaline, epinephrine, glycogen, cortical, norepinephrine, among others – flood all the cells of the body via the bloodstream releasing a dread anxiety that sends each victim scurrying irrationally into the dark recesses of imagined safety. Agoraphobic. Full of that dread of others that is the earmark of certain type of insanity the victim falls prey to paralyzing terror, begins to shake uncontrollably, nauseous, trembling, sweating… The victims of this dark fate are part and partial of what Ligotti calls the ‘human phenomenon’:

“The human phenomenon is but the sum of densely coiled layers of illusion each of which winds itself on the supreme insanity that there are persons of any kind when all there can be is mindless mirrors laughing and screaming as they parade about in an endless dream.”
In some ways Ligotti inhabits an inverse relation to Oscar Wilde’s high aesthetic: “That is what the highest criticism really is, the record of one’s own soul. It is the only civilized form of autobiography as it deals not with the events but with the thoughts of one’s life… the spiritual moods and imaginative passions of the mind.”

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Epicure of Pessimism: The Horror of Thomas Ligotti – Part II

“We are only passers by in this jungle of mutations and mistakes. The natural world existed when we did not, and it will continue to exist long after we are gone. The supernatural crept into life only when the door of consciousness was opened in our heads: the moment we stepped through that door, we walked out on nature.”
– Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

Matt Cardin in his recent essay, The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets, measuring the influence of H.P. Lovecraft’s life and writings upon Thomas Ligotti shows forth a distinct, if not core, leitmotif that has circulated in and out his horror fiction, interviews, and philosophical musings:

“I aspired toward nothing less than a pure style without style, a style having nothing whatsoever to do with the normal or abnormal, a style magic, timeless, and profound . . . and one of great horror, the horror of a god” (SOADD, p. 112). In other words, he was trying to burst the bonds of the written word… by writing a horror story that presented pure horror, the pristine experience in and of itself, on a veritably cosmic-divine level, and that would therefore be able to invade the reader’s experience and become, instead of just a story on a page, his or her existential reality. The attempt failed, of course, because it was necessarily founded upon the very unreality (of the world of fiction) that it was attempting to overcome. That is, the whole idea was a categorical impossibility. But the passion behind it was and is real in the minds of both the narrator and Ligotti himself…”

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Epicure of Pessimism: The Horror of Thomas Ligotti – Part I

“Generalists of disillusionment broadcast on a wider frequency. Yet their message, a repetitive dirge that has been rehearsed for thousands of years, is received only by epicures of pessimism, cognitive mavericks who have impetuously circled the field in the race to the finish line.”
– Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

In a recent interview Thomas Ligotti reflecting on the displacement of literary masters like H.P. Lovecraft and Bruno Schulz toward a more philosophical turn in the pessimism represented by Peter Wessel Zapffe confessed:

“Yes. As I’ve said before, literature is entertainment or it is nothing. Before I die I’d like to find something more than entertainment, although I doubt I will. Lately I’ve been thinking about television as a “way” to deliverance. Not long ago I read that television produces alpha waves in the human brain, something that meditation also does. Who knows, I could become liberated from suffering by watching cop shows and reruns of Seinfeld.”

What’s interesting here is not the irony of such a pursuit but that Ligotti, an avowed atheist and pessimist,  would use such Buddhistic language in his need for ‘deliverance’ and liberation from suffering. The idea of Ligotti sitting in front of a television watching banal comedy and action series in pursuit of a new liberationist “way” like a new age guru of some arcane cult of technological rapture seemed both absurd and reassuring at the same time. J.G. Ballard and some of his writings came to mind as I read that last sentence where he juxtaposed the absurdity of a group of scientists studying people watching tv as a form of ‘alpha wave’ therapy as if suffering were just another technological problem to be solved by the elite harbingers of our technocratic future.

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