Thomas Ligotti, Grimscribe, and Songs.

15 Jan

Yep, Ligotti got me.

  1. Thomas Liggoti, ye gods.
  2. After True Detective, I reviewed/interacted with his Conspiracy against the Human Race a few years ago. Despite my rejection of its philosophy, it stuck with me. It isn’t a book you can easily forget.
  3. Short summary: human consciousness is an evolutionary mistake, responsible for all our suffering. Humans should, as a species, stop procreating and die out. This will end our turmoil.
  4. I totally reject this notion. (And I’m not making this up.)
  5. I finally read his first two story collections, Grimscribe and Songs of a Dead Dreamer.
  6. Ligotti, take a bow.
  7. His stories are deeply, jarringly unsettled. Burrowing maggoty narratives that rattle your dreams.
  8. Ligotti is, like Lovecraft, using the parameters and tropes of horror fiction to convey his profound pessimism about the human condition. He believes in nothing, Lebowski, only he really means it.
  9. See Conspiracy.
  10. He’s a better writer than Lovecraft, who often slides into a florid clutching style. Lovecraft was writing in the burgeoning pulp tradition, so his stories often are, well, good as stories. Put another way, Lovecraft, as often as not, keeps his audience in mind.
  11. Ligotti does not.
  12. Ligotti’s talents are in service to a vast negation, which adds to the disturbing feelings.
  13. Put another way: reading Ligotti hurts.
  14. My favorite stories were “The Frolic,” “The Last Feast of the Harlequin,” and “Nethescurial.”
  15. “The Frolic” is a conversation between a jaded psychologist and his wife. The psychologist decides to share the kind of day he’s been having. Their daughter is asleep upstairs. The wife is getting nervous. The husband is getting drunk. It’s terrifying.
  16. “The Last Feast of the Harlequin” follows an academic studying clowns. He discovers a peculiar festival in some bumpkin town and decides to investigate. It’s . . . intense.
  17. “Nethescurial” is the memoir of a man who has gone insane, and why. He’s succumbed to madness due to a tale of a land called Nethescurial, a manuscript he’s stumbled upon; by story’s end he’s not insane at all, everyone else is.
  18. Ligotti utilizes the trappings of horror—shadowy estates, zombies, the unnameable, even vampires—but in his hands they feel fresh, somehow.
  19. He has a fondness for arcane words: lucubration, carnifex, habiliments, tatterdemalion.
  20. Like Nick Cave. (And if you haven’t read And the Ass Saw the Angel, get thee to a bookstore.)
  21. Or William Faulkner.
  22. Reading Ligotti’s early work is fascinating, as he begins directly in Lovecraft’s shadow, clearly imitating him, and then surpasses him in the cosmic reach of his terror. He improves, drastically, in his horror thinking.
  23. Here’s an example. One of the stories involves a narrator discovering that the world and everything in it—objects and all living things—is actually made of a single, black slime. It is the collective delusions of humanity that keep the semblance of order, the demarcations. But every once in a while, our delusions crack, and everything begins to melt. We forget these periods as they are too horrible to remember, and thus the cycle repeats itself.
  24. Pretty bleak stuff. Everything always melting. The only thing in existence a black ooze.
  25. Re-occurring images: puppets, faceless people, dwarves, alienating landscapes, sickly green illumination.
  26. And always, always, always, the spiral of sinister alien stars.
  27. Ligotti moves from fear to disgust, from disgust into existential terror. It’s quite a trick. His characters don’t drink, smoke, eat, copulate. He has a clear disregard to physical pleasures.
  28. Like Jonathan Swift.
  29. His characters also have little to distinguish them. They don’t draw the horror on themselves through chutzpah or ambition; they instead trip over the true terror of the world.
  30. Ligotti is a bit funnier than I expected, but the jokes are few and far between. Just saying.
  31. I happened to read Richard Bausch’s Spirits at the same time. Bausch is a very fine writer, with the fine-tuned feel of a workshop behind him. But he’s writing horror, too; “Police Dreams” and “All the Way to Flagstaff” are both ghost stories, of how rage and terror are passed down from the parents to the children through misunderstanding and fear. Absolutely terrifying.
  32. Ligotti and Bausch, who knew?
  33. Grimscribe is Poe + Lovecraft + Borges. It’s more sophisticated, more intellectual and less fun.
  34. Poe’s bleak assessment of human nature; Lovecraft’s belief in human insignificance; Borges’s notion of stories and texts as self-replicating traps.
  35. Ligotti evokes Borges especially in the later stories. Books are passageways. There are labyrinths, authors collapsing into their fictions. But Borges has a strong sense of intellectual play, even joy. Ligotti proffers only blackness and abnegation.
  36. Ligotti pays homage to Borges in strange ways. There’s little plot or action. But rather dark epiphanies usually stumbled upon. Then, intimation and grim absolutes.
  37. Borges is quite the horrorist himself, although his scares are intellectual. People are always saying how funny he is. Go back and read Tlon. It’s about the destruction of the real world through the invention of a fake one.
  38. Meanwhile, Ligotti negates. Utterly.
  39. I need to be clear about this, as Ligotti has made it clear in the few interviews he’s given. He wants you to be wrecked and wretched after reading his stuff.
  40. Wrecked. And wretched.
  41. He (mostly) succeeds.
  42. I enjoyed his more straight-forward horror. I merely admired the blank rigor of his Borgesian fictions.
  43. I kept thinking, here’s this singular intelligence, driven to write these obscene stories. Why?
  44. Ideas have power. Ligotti seems to have read Schopenhauer and Cioran—he claims to be a disciple of sorts—at the wrong time. If he had stumbled onto Spinoza instead? Or Kierkegaard?
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